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Part 1: ‘Rightful’ owners of prime lot in QC fight back

Dave M. Veridiano
Part 1: ‘Rightful’ owners of prime lot in QC fight back
Heirs of the purported owner of the prime lot where SM North EDSA and Trinoma Mall now stand want to get back what they believe to be legally and rightfully theirs

MANILA, Philippines – They are the heirs of Eulalio Ragua, the purported owner of the prime lot in Quezon City where SM North EDSA Mall and Trinoma Complex stand.

They lived in that area since birth until they were evicted from their houses which were later demolished to give way to high-rise commercial and residential buildings. The area came to be known as the Quezon City Central Business District (QC-CBD).

Now, these 8 families made up of more than 40 Ragua siblings, grandsons, granddaughters and in-laws, are back with a vengeance, requesting the premier investigating arm of the Philippine National Police (PNP), the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG), to investigate the circumstances surrounding the demolition of their houses and their eviction from the prime parcel of land that they claim to be lawfully and rightfully theirs.

They are also questioning the building and business permits granted to these giant malls which have been raking in hundreds of millions of pesos from renting or leasing the property to other business establishments without paying a single centavo to the “rightful” landowner.

Amid this investigation, the CIDG invited in February this year at least 7 Quezon City officials to shed light on the Ragua heirs’ complaint against city executives. They were asked to explain the legality of the construction and business permits issued to SM North EDSA Mall and Trinoma Complex, an agent privy to the investigation said.

A copy of the 13-page complaint addressed to Senior Superintendent Ronald Lee, CIDG regional chief, dated January 4, 2016, specifically mentioned SM North EDSA and Trinoma Complex as business establishments that have “been erected in their property using false and questionable authority, having been issued building permits and business permits by the local government of Quezon City in violation of the law.”

“We are the lawful heirs of the late Eulalio Ragua, the owner of the Diliman Estate in Quezon City covered by the Original Certificate of Title (OCT) 632,” said Danilo Ragua Lara and Anita A. Lopez in their letter of complaint filed before the CIDG then headed by Director Victor Deona.

The other Ragua heirs gave the two complainants Special Power of Attorney to represent them in the case. Danilo is a grandson of Eulalio Ragua, while Anita is a relative-in-law.

Executive Order

Two executive issuances of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo – Executive Order No. 620 dated May 4, 2007, and EO 620-A signed on September 11, 2007 –   paved the way for the massive development of QC-CBD.

Both EOs aim to rationalize and speed up the development of East and North Triangles, and the Veterans Memorial area of Quezon City as a well-planned, integrated, and environmentally balanced mixed-use development model. At the same time, Arroyo directed the would-be implementers to respect the rights of the property owners and hammer out deal structures with them.

The said areas are part of the Raguas’ land title OCT 632 which won its reconstitution case at Branch 18 of the Court of First Instance (CFI) in Quezon City, only to be reversed 8 years later by the Court of Appeals (CA) and two years later by the Supreme Court (SC). This virtually handed the case on a silver platter to the respondent, J.M. Tuason & Company, Incorporated.  The Ragua case was surprisingly resolved very quickly during the administration of Arroyo, whose husband is a full-blooded Tuason.

Bold move

According to Virgilio T. Pablico, CIDG chief legal officer, the bold move of the Raguas to file complaints was prompted by two recent developments in their investigation.

The first was the recovery of the photostat copy of the Owners Duplicate Certificate of Title, OCT 632, in an entrapment operation.  The second were the findings of the joint investigation of CIDG and PNP Crime Laboratory document experts that the Land Registration Decree – the basis for the issuance of the Tuasons’ OCT 735 – is a falsified document.

“With these developments, the owner of the title or his heirs will have the right to pursue their legal action against the holders and possessors of the land in order to recover it,” Pablico added.

The two Raguas are representing more than 40 other relatives from the side of the Ragua patriarch. The latter’s land title case became famous in the early 1980s when Judge Ernani Cruz Paño of CFI Branch 18 in Quezon City (who later became the Court Administrator of the Supreme Court) ruled in favor of Ragua’s petition for reconstitution of OCT 632, ending the 21-year-old court battle.

However, the Ragua heirs, who were then considered as squatters on a portion of the property they claimed, were not ready to face the appeal at the Court of Appeals (CA) filed by the two respondents – J.M.Tuason and the state-run Philippine Homesite and Housing Corporation (PHHC), the forerunner of National Housing Authority (NHA).

After a long court battle, the Raguas lost at the CA on May 30, 1989. The court sustained the claim of the respondents that there was no basis for reconstitution of the Raguas’ title OCT 632 because the copy of the land title they used as evidence is not the original photo copy and was not even clear enough to be authenticated. The Raguas claim to have lost the original OCT 632 after the war.

With the reversal, the Raguas filed a petition for review with the the Supreme Court, which was denied on January 30, 2000. On February 28 of the same year, they again filed a motion for reconsideration, which the Supreme Court recently denied with finality.

At least 3 other Ragua heirs have chosen to remain as “squatters” in a small portion of the contested lot despite efforts of the Quezon City government to evict them with the other families living in shanties beside the Trinoma complex.

They are still holding their ground because they believe that the issue resolved in the Supreme Court was only the “reconstitution” aspect and not the “ownership” of the 439-hectare property. –

Conclusion: Part 2: The battle of the land titles

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