BATTLE OVER WATERFRONT
National government goes to court: Cebu City doesn’t own Compania Maritima lot
Who really owns the Compania Maritima property?
And can City Hall hold on to it?
A legal battle for control of less than one hectare of land by the Cebu harbor is in progress with the filing of a special civil action by the national government against the City of Cebu.
The area’s most prominent landmark is the ruins of a pre-World War II building that once housed the shipping company, Compania Maritima.
The commercial value of the lot at the edge of the 300-hectare South Road Properties has increased with ongoing developments in the SRP.
The complaint for injunction with quieting of title was filed this month by the Republic of the Philippines represented by the Cebu Port Authority (CPA).
Named defendants are Cebu City Mayor Michael Rama and acting City Assessor Eustaquio Cesa.
This type of case asks the court to determine with finality the real owner of a property.
“Are they declaring war against the Cebu City government?” said a surprised Mayor Rama, when reporters asked him about it.
“I don’t understand — (a case) to recover Compania Maritima? Who owns it? Pataka rama na sila’g dasmag, oi (They don’t know what they’re doing),” the mayor said.
The CPA tangled with the Cebu city mayor three years ago when he had the CPA’s fence knocked down to widen the area behind City Hall as part of the beautification project of the Senior Citizens’ Park and the Compania Maritima.
The appropriated area is now a parking lot.
In the complaint, the national government, through the CPA, asked the Regional Trial Court in Cebu City to stop Mayor Rama and other city officials from exercising rights of ownership over the property.
The plaintiffs asked the court to declare as “null and void” the Tax Declaration which was used by the City of Cebu to claim ownership over the disputed piece of land.
What remains of the Compania Maritima is only a shell of the commercial building whose value lies in its being a heritage structure of Cebu’s American and pre-war history.
Mayor Rama has more than once expressed his desire to have the building developed into a Maritime Museum.
The three-story concrete building was erected in 1910 on reclaimed land at the port area. It was occupied by the Shamrock Hotel during pre-war years before it was eventually leased to house the corporate offices of the shipping company Compania Maritima.
Solicitor General Florin Hilbay filed the complaint representing the National Government. The CPA is represented by Edmund Tan, the general manager.
They said the Philippine Ports Authority (PPA) and later the CPA operated the premises of Compania Maritima until June 2012 when Mayor Rama ordered the demolition of the concrete fence surrounding the building to allow a better view of the sea from the adjacent Senior Citizens’ Park.
To secure the area from interlopers, the CPA restored portions of the concrete fence along P. Burgos and Lapu-Lapu Streets.
To their surprise, the CPA was sent a notice of violation from the Office of the Building Official of Cebu City for the restoration.
On June 21, 2013, notwithstanding the appeal made by the CPA, Rama ordered the immediate removal of all illegal structures encroaching on the premises of Compania Maritima, including the concrete and interlink wire fences in the area.
The area was converted into a parking lot for the general public and employees of the Cebu City Hall.
The Office of the Solicitor General said the CPA has the power under its charter to “control, regulate, supervise any construction or structure within any Port District” and doesn’t need to secure a building permit from Cebu City to restore or put a fence in its territorial jurisdiction.
Acting City Assessor Cesa issued a Tax Declaration Certificate that states the Cebu city government owns the property.
CPA officials said the claim had no legal basis and contradicted actions of Cebu city officials who had previously recognized the CPA’s authority over the area.
Before the 2013 conflict, the city government had always asked the CPA’s permission to use the Compania Maritima premises to install temporary shelters for a Tent City for pilgrims during the Sinulog.
This is no longer the case now. CPA said they could not understand the sudden change of position.
The OSG said the Compania Maritima and its premises were part of the Baseport of Cebu, and is by law, owned by the Republic of the Philippines, and placed under the possession and administration of the CPA.
While Compania Maritima premises are currently not used for ship docking operations, they said it does not make it the property of the city government.
“The intended public use for the Compania Maritima lot as part and parcel of the Baseport of Cebu has remained unchanged–for port operations in the region. It was then, and is still now, a property of public dominion,” the OSG said.
The PPA was created by Presidential Decree No. 505 issued by then President Ferdinand Marcos in 1974. An executive order followed the next year establishing the customs zone for the Baseport of Cebu whose control was transferred from the Bureau of Customs to the PPA.
The charter of the CPA was enacted into law with Republic Act 7621 in 1992.
The CPA was given the power and authority to operate and maintain port facilities in the province and city of Cebu. Under a 1996 agreement with PPA, the administration and operation of the ports in the Province of Cebu were turned over to the CPA.
National government lawyers said the CPA has the right to be in peaceful possession of the Compania Maritima premises and to make any improvements there without interference from local government units like the City of Cebu.
They claim the Tax Declaration presented by the city government was a “substantial invasion of the ownership rights of the Republic of the Philippines since the property is clearly of public domain.”
Disclaimer: The comments uploaded on this site do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of management and owner of Cebudailynews. We reserve the right to exclude comments that we deem to be inconsistent with our editorial standards.