By: Juli Ann M. Sibi with Jose Santino S. Bunachita January 13,2016 - 12:42 AM
Fire victims start rebuilding their homes in sitio Avocado, barangay Lahug despite cases filed by the University of the Philippines Cebu. (CDN PHOTO/TONEE DESPOJO)

Fire victims start rebuilding their homes in sitio Avocado, barangay Lahug despite cases filed by the University of the Philippines Cebu. (CDN PHOTO/TONEE DESPOJO)

Forcible entry case filed against 74 Lahug fire victims

Virginia Aray, 69,  has just finished building a 30-square-meter house with plywood walls and tin roofs at the fire-ravaged site in sitio Avocado, barangay Lahug in Cebu City.

“Nakabarog na intawn akong gamay nga payag. Ningbayad ko og P3,000. Namakyaw mi sa among mga silingan og karpentero para makapatukod og balay (My small house is finally standing. I, as well as my neighbors, paid P3,000 for a carpenter to build our house),” Aray said.

Whether Aray will be able to occupy her new house remains to be seen.

She is one of the 74 defendants named by the University of the Philippines (UP) in a forcible entry case that UP Cebu Dean Liza Corro and Associate Solicitor Nielson G. Pangan filed yesterday afternoon.

The case is the latest development in UP Cebu’s bid to gain possession of the sitio Avocado lot, which it claims to be part of its 12-hectare property, and remove all the structures erected by the settlers in the area.

As of yesterday, over 15 wooden structures have been erected in the area. Some residents have also built bamboo fences while others marked their allotted space with furniture.

Pangan said the university is not using the fire that hit sitio Avocado on Dec. 26, 2015 as an excuse to have the informal settlers evicted  because “in the first place, they never had a claim on the sitio Avocado site.”

“We are not trying to evict them because of the fire. We are defending our right over it (the lot) by filing these cases,” Pangan said.

“When the fire broke out, they (settlers) left the property. They cannot say that it is their ‘suspended right’ as informal settlers because aside from having no claim on the land at all, there are no more structures on the land. They have nothing to return to already,” he added.

The case is on top of the injunction case that the university filed last Friday to indefinitely restrain the city government from continuing further developments in the area.

A 72-hour temporary restraining order (TRO) was issued on Monday to stop the re-blocking, which has actually been completed, while the injunction case will be heard today by Regional Trial Court Judge Ricky Macabaya.


Acting Cebu City Mayor Edgardo Labella said he was still hopeful that an out-of-court settlement can still be reached with the university.

He said it’s the university’s right to file cases against the city government and the settlers. He added that they were ready to answer the cases in court.

“That’s what we’ve been telling (them) before. The issue of ownership should be settled as soon as we shall have addressed the concerns of the victims. Now that it has been addressed, the proper procedure like negotiation and filing of cases in court (can continue). That is their right,” he said.

Labella assured that the fire victims can continue to occupy the re-blocked fire site despite the TRO.

“Inasmuch as they are already there, it (TRO) has become fait accompli. It’s moot and academic because the area has been re-blocked,” Labella told reporters yesterday.

He and City Legal Officer Jerone Castillo said the TRO issued by RTC Judge Soliver Peras doesn’t state that the fire victims should be evicted.


In its complaint, the university represented by Dean Corro said the 74 fire victims “forcibly entered” the property and violated the rights of the university when they began building on the lots apportioned by the Cebu City government during the re-blocking of the fire site.

“UP has asserted and has proven over and over again that they are the property owners. These rights were disrespected, especially when people started building on the property and even disallowed UP from repossessing it,” said Associate Solicitor Pangan.

The complaint cited a series of events when the settlers and representatives of the Cebu City government stopped the university from repossessing its property.

Last December 31, UP employees started to secure the fire site by putting up tents and marking the boundaries. But Cebu City Hall staff, allegedly on orders of City Administrator Lucelle Mercado and Division for the Welfare of the Urban Poor (DWUP) chief Collin Rosell, removed the markings on the ground.

On January 3, “the defendants, together with agents of DWUP and PROBE, removed the tents of the plaintiff and threatened the plaintiff’s representatives; the defendants also built their own tents within the property owned by the plaintiff.”

“This is a clear act that deprives the university, as the plaintiff, of its right to use and possess the subject property, as the registered property owners,” the complaint stated.


With the issuance of the TRO, Aray said she and the other fire victims cannot continue building their houses on the lot.

“We don’t have electricity, official water lines, and even basic services because of the cases filed by UP. We are fire victims and they are asking us to leave. We wonder if they even sympathize with us,” Aray said in Cebuano.

Manolito Saladas, UP Cebu chief of security, said seven security guards, each with a copy of the TRO, have been instructed to prevent any vehicle or personnel carrying building equipment, be it coming from the city government or from private citizens, from entering the fire site.

Lot 911 B-2-C-2-E, of which the 4,000 sqm fire site in sitio Avocado, Lahug is part of, was donated to the University of the Philippines by the Cebu provincial government in 1954 based on Transfer Certificate of Title (TCT) no. 31166.

Negotiations with the university will continue until a win-win solution is found, Acting Mayor Labella said.

The filing of cases in court doesn’t mean the negotiations have failed. Rather, the parties now have a formal venue for mediation and possible settlement, he added.

“Even if there’s a case filed, there’s always a possibility of settlement. The case can be settled in the middle of the proceedings,” Labella said.

A team has been formed to continue discussions with the university and the Cebu provincial government on the plight of the fire victims. The team is composed of Castillo, City Administrator  Mercado and DWUP chief Rosell.

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TAGS: Cebu, Cebu City, Lahug, sitio Avocado, UP-Cebu

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