‘PAY CAPITOL P37.8 MILLION’
Judge tells Balili owners to refund 2008 payment for underwater lots but ‘no money left’ in bank
Gwen Garcia: Truth will eventually come out
Give the money back.
A Cebu City judge has ordered the heirs of the late engineer Luis Balili to return to the Cebu provincial government P37.8 million that was paid for portions of the controversial Balili estate in the City of Naga that turned out to be underwater.
Since 9.4 hectares were submerged lots and mangrove areas, the property belongs to the State.
“Defendants (Balili family), who received the (payment), are not entitled to it,” said Judge Raphael Yrastorza of the Regional Trial Court Branch 14 in his decision.
The decision came too late.
Lawyer Romeo Balili, who is executor of the Balili Estate, said there was no more money to return.
The sales proceeds were already distributed to Luis’ 87-year-old widow Amparo and their four children in 2010, he said.
“There is no more money (left in the bank); not even a single centavo,” he told reporters yesterday.
Romeo said they will seek a reconsideration of the court ruling.
Former Cebu Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia and five other former Capitol officials are facing graft charges before the Sandiganbayan for the 2008 sale of 24.9 hectares of the Balili estate during her administration.
A total of P98.9 million in public funds was spent for the deal.
The Ombudsman said the money was illegally disbursed since a large part of the estate or 19 hectares was found to be underwater in a survey conducted by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and the province had no funds earmarked for the purchase.
The court decision of Judge Yrastorza dated Feb. 16, but released to the media yesterday, was the outcome of a 2009 civil case filed by the Province of Cebu and then Governor Garcia to recover partial payment.
The judge said the Balilis had no right to receive payment for the nine hectares because the submerged land was “inalienable and indisposable part of public domain, hence, not subject to the commerce of man.”
The judge directed Amparo Balili, her nephew Romeo Balili, and the Balili Estate to return P37,810,400 paid by the province to the family “otherwise it would be an injustice to allow defendants to be unjustly enriching themselves at the expense of the plaintiff.”
Soon after the 2008 purchase, questions about the Balili land deal erupted with then Governor Garcia under fire for buying the land.
In a press conference on Aug. 13, 2009 at the height of the controversy, Garcia apologized in public and said she was “sorry” that she was misled about the nature of the property, where she recalled spending childhood summers in the Balili beach resort.
Garcia said the purchase was not a real loss to the province, since the Capitol could still backfill and develop the submerged lots, as well as demand a refund for nine hectares.
That prompted the Capitol’s filing of the civil case for specific performance and reduction/refund of the purchase price of parcels of land.
DON’T BLAME GWEN
In his decision, Judge Raphael Yrastorza said former Cebu governor Garcia should not be blamed for buying submerged lots.
“The plaintiff (Garcia) cannot be faulted for this. The principles under our Torrens System still holds true: a buyer of a registered land need only to rely upon the title of a registered land and has no obligation to look beyond such title,” the judge said.
The judge said that a mere ocular inspection of the Balili lot “by the naked eyes will never show that the submerged portions as well as the mangrove areas were included in the sale of the properties.”
The Balili property is covered by a Torrens title issued as early as 1977.
Before the Capitol bought the property in 2008, the Balili family was silent about the controversial portions, said the judge.
“Whether or not plaintiff knew of the submerged areas, the law would not allow the other party to take advantage of the ignorance of the party affected,” he said.
Amparo Balili’s lawyer Caesar Tabotabo said the court ruling was absurd.
“Kataw-anan kaayo. (It’s laughable),” he told CDN yesterday.
“The judge is asking my client to return the money representing the submerged lots. But nowhere in the decision does it instruct the province to return the lot titles,” he said.
Tabotabo said they will file a motion for reconsideration, and if needed contest the ruling before the Court of Appeals.
He said returning the lot titles to the Balili was “just common sense.”
“It’s akin to selling a car. If you decide to return a property, it should be returned with the same features as when it was sold. But look at those submerged portions of the Balili property now. They have been covered with soil. It’s no longer the same property that we sold to the province years ago,” he said.
Tabotabo maintained that the submerged portions were covered with lot titles.
“Do we have any regrets in selling that property? It’s too late for that. We sold that property at P400 per square meter when we could have sold it at a higher price, even times five that rate,” he said.
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