Rey E. Requejo | The Standard | July 12, 2015
Third-party investors at the 247-hectare Camp John Hay have junked the option laid down by the Bases Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA) for them to renegotiate their leasehold contracts in order to avoid eviction from the former American recreational facility in Baguio City.
During the continuation of the Court of Appeals summary hearing on the petition by the Camp John Hay Development Corp. and third party investors seeking to stop BCDA from evicting them from the former American recreational facility, lawyer Howard Calleja, counsel for 59 property owners, informed the CA justices that his clients would not agree to the demand of the BCDA to abandon their leasehold contracts, and instead renegotiate them with the agency.
Calleja argued that it would be tantamount to “double compensation” on the part of BCDA if third party investors would give in to the BCDA’s demand to renegotiate their lease contracts considering that they have fully paid their obligations until the end of their 50-year leasehold agreement in 2046.
“Such negotiation is illegal and ultra vires (beyond the powers). It is our submission that being a government property, it is not subject to renegotiation but for bidding,” Calleja stressed.
According to the lawyer, the BCDA should not go beyond the ruling of the arbitral panel, which orders it to compensate CJHDEVCO in the amount of P1.4 billion and for the latter to vacate the leases premises upon receipt of payment.
Calleja noted that arbitral award binds only BCDA and CJHDEVCO and not the third party investors.
“It is our desire that BCDA respects our peaceful possession and ownership until 2046,” Calleja pleaded the CA justices.
In the same hearing, another intervenor, the CJH Golf Club with 850 investors also asked the Court to stop the BCDA from enforcing its eviction notice against them.
Camp John Hay Golf Club’s lawyer Joel Bodegon told the appellate court that it was not a party in the arbitration proceedings, thus, the arbitration panel award is not binding on its client.
Bodegon said BCDA’s assertion to include third party investors in the implementation of the ruling of the arbitration panel is a clear violation of their right to due process.
“An actual possessor of a property enjoys a legal presumption of just title in his favor, which must be overcome by the party claiming otherwise. Thus, petitioner-in-intervention CJH Golf, as actual possessor of the Golf Course, enjoys a presumption of just title in its favor. The burden of proving otherwise is upon the respondents, who seek to evict them from the Golf Course, which is in the actual possession of petitioner-in-intervention CJH Golf,” Bodegon added.
“In sum, petitioner-in-intervention CJH Golf may be ejected from the property ‘only after it had been given an opportunity to be heard conformably with the time-honored principle of due process,” he pointed out.
The lawyer said that CJH Golf can be dispossessed only after BCDA files and wins in a proper suit against it.
“To insist otherwise, as what public respondents assert, would certainly go against the tenets of the constitutionally protected right that not person shall be deprived of his property without due process of law. Surely, to proceed in the manner taken by public respondents constitutes a grave abuse of authority, which can only be cured by the extraordinary writs of certiorari and prohibition,” Bodegon argued.
The CA wrapped up its four-day hearing on the petition filed by CJHDEVCO seeking to enjoin the BCDA from enforcing even on third party investors the Writ of Execution and Notice to Vacate issued by Regional Trial Court of Baguio City against the Camp John Hay developer.
CAP John Hay Trade and Cultural Center (JHTCC) is a co-petitioner in the case, while the CA has ruled to admit CJH Golf Club and the individual property owners at Camp John Hay to intervene in the petition.
Meanwhile, Associate Justice Noel Tijam, chairman of the CA’s Special Fifth Division handling the Camp John Hay ownership dispute, admitted that “it might be very difficult for the court to resolve the issue.”
Tijam noted that the new problem between the CJHDEVCO and BCDA arose from the failure of the two parties to include the interest of the third party investors in their arbitration proceedings.
“It seems as far the arbitral award it is clear that there is no more dispute. The only contention is the biggest elephant of the room you chose to ignore is here,” Tijam said.
The CA earlier directed the parties to maintain a status quo once t the 60-day temporary restraining order (TRO) it issued on May 19, 2015 expires on July 19, 2015.
The status quo would prevent the BCDA from enforcing the notice of eviction issued by the Regional Trial Court of Baguio City on CJHDEVCO and its investors until the resolution of the petition on the merit.
Tijam assured all the parties that the CA would resolve the petition not later than the end of July.
On May 12, 2015, CJHDEVCO filed a petition for certiorari and prohibition with urgent applications for the issuance of a TRO and/or a writ of preliminary injunction against the implementation of the writ of execution dated April 14, 2015 and the notice to vacate dated April 20, 2015 issued by the Baguio RTC.
Prior to this, the PDRCI arbitral tribunal rendered the final award, rescinding the subject lease agreement due to mutual breach of the parties.
In the said final award, petitioner was ordered to vacate the leased property and to promptly deliver the same to BCDA.
On the other hand, the BCDA was also ordered to return to petitioner the amount of P1,421,096,052 as advance rentals paid by the latter.
But the BCDA included the third party investors in the implementation of the notice to vacate, prompting the CJHDEVCO to seek redress from the CA.