Court orders Cebu family to return P37.8M to provincial gov’t over ‘underwater’ land
CEBU CITY, Philippines – 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 about P37.8 million that was paid for portions of the beachfront property that was found to be mostly underwater.
Judge Raphael Yrastorza of the Regional Trial Court Branch 14 said in a decision released on Wednesday that the Balili family received the payment from the provincial government even if they were not entitled to it.
“There is no legal right to receive it considering that the areas sold to plaintiffs (Cebu province) are inalienable and indisposable part of public domain, hence, not subject to the commerce of man,” he added.
In 2008, the provincial government under then Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia, who is now 2nd district representative, paid P98.9 million for the 24.9 hectares of property in Naga City, Cebu, for the building of an industrial zone.
The environmentalists questioned the deal, forcing Capitol to conduct a post-purchase geodetic survey, which later showed that eight hectares of the property were submerged in seawater while 1.4 hectares were planted to mangroves.
The Office of the Ombudsman later charged Garcia and five other Capitol officials with graft for the allegedly anomalous purchase of the property.
The case is now pending before the Sandiganbayan.
The province filed a civil case in a bid to recover the money paid for the portion of the property that was underwater.
In a decision, Judge Yraztorza ruled that the Balilis should return the P37,810,400 paid for the 9.4 hectares that should not have been sold.
“It is only simple justice, therefore, that the defendants should return what plaintiffs claimed, otherwise, it would be an injustice to allow defendants to enrich themselves at the expense of the plaintiff…,” Yrastorza said.
But lawyer Romeo Balili, the executor of the Balili Estate, said the money paid by the province had already been distributed to Luis’ 87-year-old widow Amparo and their four children in 2010.
“There is no more money (left in the bank); not even a single centavo,” he said.
He said they would ask the court to reconsider its ruling.
Of the P98.9 million paid by the province, P82 million was left in the bank after payment was made for “taxes, fees, relocation expenses” and a P4.7 million “broker’s commission,” court records showed.
In December 2010, Judge Ester Veloso of the Regional Trial Court Branch 5, who conducted a probate or intestate proceedings to administer the estate of the late Luis Balili, gave the go signal to distribute “part” of the sales proceeds of the estate to the declared heirs.
The amount of P44,483,981.32 was divided among Luis’ four children and widow, Amparo.
However, the court instructed that P37.8 million of the amount be preserved pending resolution of the Capitol’s demand for a refund for the submerged lots.
Romeo told the court that Amparo withdrew money from the estate’s account on Dec. 7, 2010 without his knowledge.
In a statement, Garcia’s daughter and lawyer Christina Garcia-Frasco said they were happy with the findings of the lower court.
“This is a positive development for us. The court’s findings are consistent with prevailing law and jurisprudence. Since the very beginning, former governor and now congresswoman Garcia, in behalf of the Cebu provincial government, is a buyer of good faith who should not be held liable for her reliance on the titles of the Balili properties,” Frasco said.
Representative Garcia told the Inquirer that she only wanted to protect the interest of the province.
“After all the brouhaha and those unfounded accusations, just look at the facts. Now, the court has echoed what the law states. Truth can be long and difficult to reach. But will definitely come out soon,” she said.
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