SC orders grafts raps vs 2 over twice-titled condos

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MANILA, Philippines—The Supreme Court has ordered the Ombudsman to file graft charges against the former Pasig City register of deeds and a lawyer over the alteration of condominium certificates of title (CCTs) for a building whose ownership is being disputed by a realty firm and an insurance company.

In a 33-page decision written by Justice Jose Perez and issued on July 31, the high court’s Second Division said there was probable cause to charge former registrar Policarpio Espensin and lawyer Francis Serrano with violation of Republic Act No. 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.

The court also said Espensin was liable administratively for grave misconduct and should have been dismissed from the government service for violating the rules of title registration and merely relying on Serrano’s word that the CCTs should have been altered.

Division chair Justice Antonio Carpio and members Arturo Brion, Mariano del Castillo and Estela Perlas-Bernabe concurred in the ruling.

The case stemmed from a complaint by businessman Oscar Ampil, an unsecured creditor of an ASB Realty Corp. sister company which in 1995 entered into a joint development project with Malayan Insurance Co. (Mico) for the construction of a condominium, the Malayan Tower, at Ortigas Center.

Under their agreement, Mico was to contribute the land on which the building was to be put up and ASB would acquire ownership after paying P640 million.

In 2000, however, ASB was unable to fulfill its obligations to Mico after its sister company filed for rehabilitation in the Securities and Exchange Commission. Two years later, ASB and Mico again entered into another agreement whereby Mico was to assume the entire responsibility for the completion of the tower.

At the time, ASB had paid Mico around P427 million of the P640 million price of the land.

On March 11, 2005, Espensin issued 38 CCTs for 38 units and allotted parking spaces in the name of ASB. Later that day, however, he issued another set of CCTs covering the same units, this time in the name of Mico.

Espensin explained that Serrano, saying that he represented both Mico and ASB, had requested that the changes be made in the titles due to a simple error. The registrar said he consented as the titles had not yet been issued.

To protect his interest as a creditor, Ambil sued Espensin, Serrano and top Mico officials Yvonne Yuchengco and Gema Cheng before the Ombudsman for falsification of public documents and graft. Ambil said the 38 units were reserved for ASB under its agreement with Mico.

The Ombudsman, however, dismissed the criminal case of falsification due to lack of probable cause.

Ambil also filed an administrative case against Espensin but the Ombudsman only found the registrar guilty of simple misconduct and suspended him for one month.

Espensin went to the Court of Appeals which acquitted him of the charge in July 2009.

Ambil elevated both cases to the Supreme Court.

In its ruling, the high tribunal agreed with the dismissal of the falsification case but faulted the Ombudsman’s ruling for being silent on the graft aspect, adding that it had been ultimately established that Espensin, at Serrano’s urging, had altered the CCTs.

As registrar, the court said, Espensin was tasked to review deeds and other documents for conformance with the legal requirements of registration. The justices said that when the issuance of the first set of CCTs was recorded in the registry, the law states that these may not be changed without a court order.

“Espensin relied on Serrano’s word alone that a supposed error was committed. The ownership of the units remains in dispute and, by necessary inference, does not lie as well in Mico. By his baseless reliance on Serrano’s word and representation, Espensin allowed Mico to gain an unwarranted advantage and benefit in the titling of the 38 units in Malayan Tower.”

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