Espinoza: Who have better rights over Lot 937?

The issue involving Lot 937, a 4.6-hectare property in Sitio San Miguel, Barangay Apas, Cebu City, is an indication of how costly a piece of land is at present, especially since the lot is near the development of Ayala, to the extent that the right of every breathing human being to live a peaceful and decent life is set aside in favor of growth and expansion.

The residents on this lot, who are retired servicemen from the Philippine Army and the Philippine Air Force (PAF), are not giving up their abodes to the claimant, Mazy’s Capital Inc. The demolition on Monday, Nov. 14, 2022, upon a court order was stalled when someone from the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) and members of the PAF arrived.

While the person from the OSG and the Air Force servicemen did not have an order from the court to halt the demolition of the houses, their presence was a sigh of relief to Lot 937 residents since the demolition by Court Sheriff Edilberto Suarin, who is only duty-bound to enforce the court order, was temporarily suspended.

On the other hand, all that the Cebu City Government through the City Council did, as reported by SunStar Cebu, was to instruct its Division for the Welfare of the Urban Poor to create an action plan to assist the residents of Lot 937 in the event the ongoing legal dispute on the controversial lot would not be in their favor.

Meanwhile, Vice Mayor Raymond Alvin Garcia has cautioned the police who are helping the court sheriff implement the demolition order to be “circumspect in receiving and granting requests for police assistance, especially in implementing eviction orders.”

Even with a valid court order to demolish the homes of the retired servicemen on Lot 937 upon a claim by Mazy’s Capital Inc., the question as to who really is the rightful owner and who had the prior possession of this lot still hangs in the balance.

If the claim of the residents of Lot 937 is true that the Cebu City Government purchased the lot in 1939 for soldiers stationed in Camp Lapu-Lapu in Barangay Lahug, then why did the City Government not intervene in the civil action for ejectment filed by this company? Was the City Government not aware of this?

In an interview, members of Archangels Residents Merger Inc. claimed that their families moved to the place in the 1960s and built their houses, counting on the assurance of local government authorities that they could make their permanent home there. From this fact, there is no question that the residents, who built their homes, have prior possession over the new claimant of this parcel of land.

And who was Mariano Godinez, who sued Lot 937 residents for eviction in 2010? According to records at the Cebu City Government, Godinez already died and there is no document that shows Godinez was substituted in the action for eviction that he filed. The other question is, how and when did Mazy’s Capital Inc. surface on this issue? This prompted neophyte City Councilor Jaypee Labella to ask the City Council to conduct a fact-finding.

Section 28 of Republic Act 7279, or the Urban Development and Housing Act, allows eviction and demolition upon a court order. However, it’s required to send a 30-day notice to affected residents prior to the demolition and there must be adequate consultations on the matter of resettlement. Was this complied with?