FRANCISCO I. CHAVEZ, petitioner, vs. PUBLIC ESTATES AUTHORITY and AMARI COASTAL BAY DEVELOPMENT CORPORATION, respondents. [G.R. No. 133250. July 9, 2002].
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First issue: whether the principal reliefs prayed for in the petition are moot and academic because of subsequent events.
The petition prays that PEA publicly disclose the terms and conditions of the on-going negotiations for a new agreement. The petition also prays that the Court enjoin PEA from privately entering into, perfecting and/or executing any new agreement with AMARI.
PEA and AMARI claim the petition is now moot and academic because AMARI furnished petitioner on June 21, 1999 a copy of the signed Amended JVA containing the terms and conditions agreed upon in the renegotiations. Thus, PEA has satisfied petitioners prayer for a public disclosure of the renegotiations. Likewise, petitioners prayer to enjoin the signing of the Amended JVA is now moot because PEA and AMARI have already signed the Amended JVA on March 30, 1999. Moreover, the Office of the President has approved the Amended JVA on May 28, 1999.
Petitioner counters that PEA and AMARI cannot avoid the constitutional issue by simply fast-tracking the signing and approval of the Amended JVA before the Court could act on the issue. Presidential approval does not resolve the constitutional issue or remove it from the ambit of judicial review.
We rule that the signing of the Amended JVA by PEA and AMARI and its approval by the President cannot operate to moot the petition and divest the Court of its jurisdiction. PEA and AMARI have still to implement the Amended JVA. The prayer to enjoin the signing of the Amended JVA on constitutional grounds necessarily includes preventing its implementation if in the meantime PEA and AMARI have signed one in violation of the Constitution. Petitioners principal basis in assailing the renegotiation of the JVA is its violation of Section 3, Article XII of the Constitution, which prohibits the government from alienating lands of the public domain to private corporations. If the Amended JVA indeed violates the Constitution, it is the duty of the Court to enjoin its implementation, and if already implemented, to annul the effects of such unconstitutional contract.
The Amended JVA is not an ordinary commercial contract but one which seeks to transfer title and ownership to 367.5 hectares of reclaimed lands and submerged areas of Manila Bay to a single private corporation. It now becomes more compelling for the Court to resolve the issue to insure the government itself does not violate a provision of the Constitution intended to safeguard the national patrimony. Supervening events, whether intended or accidental, cannot prevent the Court from rendering a decision if there is a grave violation of the Constitution. In the instant case, if the Amended JVA runs counter to the Constitution, the Court can still prevent the transfer of title and ownership of alienable lands of the public domain in the name of AMARI.
Even in cases where supervening events had made the cases moot, the Court did not hesitate to resolve the legal or constitutional issues raised to formulate controlling principles to guide the bench, bar, and the public.[i]
Also, the instant petition is a case of first impression. All previous decisions of the Court involving Section 3, Article XII of the 1987 Constitution, or its counterpart provision in the 1973 Constitution,[ii] covered agricultural lands sold to private corporations which acquired the lands from private parties. The transferors of the private corporations claimed or could claim the right to judicial confirmation of their imperfect titles[iii] under Title II of Commonwealth Act. 141 (CA No. 141 for brevity). In the instant case, AMARI seeks to acquire from PEA, a public corporation, reclaimed lands and submerged areas for non-agricultural purposes by purchase under PD No. 1084 (charter of PEA) and Title III of CA No. 141. Certain undertakings by AMARI under the Amended JVA constitute the consideration for the purchase. Neither AMARI nor PEA can claim judicial confirmation of their titles because the lands covered by the Amended JVA are newly reclaimed or still to be reclaimed. Judicial confirmation of imperfect title requires open, continuous, exclusive and notorious occupation of agricultural lands of the public domain for at least thirty years since June 12, 1945 or earlier. Besides, the deadline for filing applications for judicial confirmation of imperfect title expired on December 31, 1987.[iv]
Lastly, there is a need to resolve immediately the constitutional issue raised in this petition because of the possible transfer at any time by PEA to AMARI of title and ownership to portions of the reclaimed lands. Under the Amended JVA, PEA is obligated to transfer to AMARI the latters seventy percent proportionate share in the reclaimed areas as the reclamation progresses. The Amended JVA even allows AMARI to mortgage at any time the entire reclaimed area to raise financing for the reclamation project.[v]
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[i] Salonga v. Pao, 134 SCRA 438 (1985); Gonzales v. Marcos, 65 SCRA 624 (1975 ); Aquino v. Enrile, 59 SCRA 183 (1974 ); Dela Camara v. Enage, 41 SCRA 1 (1971 ).
[ii] Section 11, Article XIV.
[iii] Manila Electric Co. v. Judge F. Castro-Bartolome, 114 SCRA 799 (1982); Republic v. CA and Iglesia, and Republic v. Cendana and Iglesia ni Cristo, 119 SCRA 449 (1982); Republic v. Villanueva and Iglesia ni Cristo, 114 SCRA 875 (1982); Director of Lands v. Lood, 124 SCRA 460 (1983); Republic v. Iglesia ni Cristo, 128 SCRA 44 (1984); Director of Lands v. Hermanos y Hermanas de Sta. Cruz de Mayo, Inc., 141 SCRA 21 (1986); Director of Lands v. IAC and Acme Plywood & Veneer Co., 146 SCRA 509 (1986); Republic v. IAC and Roman Catholic Bishop of Lucena, 168 SCRA 165 (1988); Natividad v. CA, 202 SCRA 493 (1991); Villaflor v. CA and Nasipit Lumber Co., 280 SCRA 297 (1997). In Ayog v. Cusi, 118 SCRA 492 (1982), the Court did not apply the constitutional ban in the 1973 Constitution because the applicant corporation, Bian Development Co., Inc., had fully complied with all its obligations and even paid the full purchase price before the effectivity of the 1973 Constitution, although the sales patent was issued after the 1973 Constitution took effect.
[iv] PD No. 1073.
[v] Annex B, AMARIs Memorandum dated June 19, 1999, Section 5.2 (c) and (e) of the Amended JVA, pp. 16-17.