CITY OF MANILA, PETITIONER, VS. MELBA TAN TE, RESPONDENT. G.R. No. 169263, September 21, 2011. - The Lawyer's Post
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Expropriation is a two-pronged proceeding: first, the determination of the authority of the plaintiff to exercise the power and the propriety of its exercise in the context of the facts which terminates in an order of dismissal or an order of condemnation affirming the plaintiff’s lawful right to take the property for the public use or purpose described in the complaint and second, the determination by the court of the just compensation for the property sought to be expropriated.
Expropriation proceedings are governed by Rule 67 of the Rules of Court. Under the Rules of Court of 1940 and 1964, where the defendant in an expropriation case conceded to the plaintiff’s right to expropriate (or where the trial court affirms the existence of such right), the court-appointed commissioners would then proceed to determine the just compensation to be paid. Otherwise, where the defendant had objections to and defenses against the expropriation of his property, he was required to file a single motion to dismiss containing all such objections and defenses.
This motion to dismiss was not covered by Rule 15 which governed ordinary motions, and was then the required responsive pleading, taking the place of an answer, where the plaintiff’s right to expropriate the defendant’s property could be put in issue. Any relevant and material fact could be raised as a defense, such as that which would tend to show that the exercise of the power to condemn was unauthorized, or that there was cause for not taking defendant’s property for the purpose alleged in the petition, or that the purpose for the taking was not public in character. With that, the hearing of the motion and the presentation of evidence would follow. The rule is based on fundamental constitutional provisions affecting the exercise of the power of eminent domain, such as those that seek to protect the individual property owner from the aggressions of the government. However, the rule, which was derived from the practice of most American states, proved indeed to be a source of confusion because it likewise permitted the filing of another motion to dismiss, such as that referred to in Rule 16, where the defendant could raise, in addition, the preliminary objections authorized under it.
The Supreme Court, in its en banc Resolution in Bar Matter No. 803 dated April 8, 1997, has provided that the revisions made in the Rules of Court were to take effect on July 1, 1997. Thus, with said amendments, the present state of Rule 67 dispenses with the filing of an extraordinary motion to dismiss such as that required before in response to a complaint for expropriation. The present rule requires the filing of an answer as responsive pleading to the complaint. Section 3 thereof provides:
Sec. 3. Defenses and objections. — If a defendant has no objection or defense to the action or the taking of his property, he may and serve a notice or appearance and a manifestation to that effect, specifically designating or identifying the property in which he claims to be interested, within the time stated in the summons. Thereafter, he shall be entitled to notice of all proceedings affecting the same.
If a defendant has any objection to the filing of or the allegations in the complaint, or any objection or defense to the taking of his property, he shall serve his answer within the time stated in the summons. The answer shall specifically designate or identify the property in which he claims to have an interest, state the nature and extent of the interest claimed, and adduce all his objections and defenses to the taking of his property. No counterclaim, cross-claim or third-party complaint shall be alleged or allowed in the answer or any subsequent pleading.
A defendant waives all defenses and objections not so alleged but the court, in the interest of justice, may permit amendments to the answer to be made not later than ten (10) days from the filing thereof. However, at the trial of the issue of just compensation, whether or not a defendant has previously appeared or answered, he may present evidence as to the amount of the compensation to be paid for his property, and he may share in the distribution of the award.
The defendant in an expropriation case who has objections to the taking of his property is now required to file an answer and in it raise all his available defenses against the allegations in the complaint for eminent domain. While the answer is bound by the omnibus motion rule under Section 8, Rule 15, much leeway is nevertheless afforded to the defendant because amendments may be made in the answer within 10 days from its filing. Also, failure to file the answer does not produce all the disastrous consequences of default in ordinary civil actions, because the defendant may still present evidence on just compensation.
At the inception of the case at bar with the filing of the complaint on November 16, 2000, the amended provisions of Rule 67 have already been long in force. Borre v. Court of Appeals teaches that statutes which regulate procedure in the courts apply to actions pending and undetermined at the time those statutes were passed. And in Laguio v. Gamet, it is said that new court rules apply to proceedings which take place after the date of their effectivity.
In the case of Robern Development Corporation v. Quitain, a similar motion to dismiss was filed by the private property owner, petitioner therein, in an expropriation case filed by the National Power Corporation (NPC), alleging certain jurisdictional defects as well as issues on the impropriety of the expropriation measure being imposed on the property. The trial court in that case denied the motion inasmuch as the issues raised therein should be dealt with during the trial proper. On petition for certiorari, the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s denial of the motion to dismiss. On appeal, the Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Appeals, but declared that under the amended provisions of Section 3, Rule 67, which were already in force at about the time the motion to dismiss had been submitted for resolution, all objections and defenses that could be availed of to defeat the expropriator’s exercise of the power of eminent domain must be contained in an answer and not in a motion to dismiss because these matters require the presentation of evidence. Accordingly, while the Court in that case sustained the setting aside of the motion to dismiss, it nevertheless characterized the order of dismissal as a nullity. Hence, it referred the case back to the trial court and required the NPC to submit its answer to the complaint within 10 days from the finality of the decision.
Thus, the trial court in this case should have denied respondent’s motion to dismiss and required her to submit in its stead an answer within the reglementary period. This, because whether petitioner has observed the provisions of Sections 9 and 10 of R.A. No. 7279 before resorting to expropriation, and whether respondent owns other properties than the one sought to be expropriated, and whether she is actually a small property owner beyond the reach of petitioner’s eminent domain powers, are indeed issues in the nature of affirmative defenses which require the presentation of evidence aliunde. Besides, Section 1, Rule 16 of the Rules of Court does not consider these matters grounds for a motion to dismiss, and an action can be dismissed only on the grounds authorized by this provision.
The Court declared in Robern Development Corporation, thus:
Accordingly, Rule 16, Section 1 of the Rules of Court, does not consider as grounds for a motion to dismiss the allotment of the disputed land for another public purpose or the petition for a mere easement of right-of-way in the complaint for expropriation. The grounds for dismissal are exclusive to those specifically mentioned in Section 1, Rule 16 of the Rules of Court, and an action can be dismissed only on a ground authorized by this provision.
To be exact, the issues raised by the petitioner are affirmative defenses that should be alleged in an answer, since they require presentation of evidence aliunde. Section 3 of Rule 67 provides that “if a defendant has any objection to the filing of or the allegations in the complaint, or any objection or defense to the taking of his property,” he should include them in his answer. Naturally, these issues will have to be fully ventilated in a full-blown trial and hearing. It would be precipitate to dismiss the Complaint on such grounds as claimed by the petitioner. Dismissal of an action upon a motion to dismiss constitutes a denial of due process if, from a consideration of the pleadings, it appears that there are issues that cannot be decided without a trial of the case on the merits.
Inasmuch as the 1997 Rules had just taken effect when this case arose, we believe that in the interest of substantial justice, the petitioner should be given an opportunity to file its answer to the Complaint for expropriation in accordance with Section 3, Rule 67 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure.x x x
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