SC upholds CA ruling stopping demolition of fence of 2 private schools in Marikina City

March 27, 2013 11:41 pm 

MANILA, March 27 — The Supreme Court en banc has upheld the ruling of the Court of Appeals stopping the Marikina City Government from demolishing the fence of two private schools in the city.

Voting 14-0, the SC en banc granted the petition for review on certiorari filed by respondents St. Scholastica's College and St. Scholastica's Academy-Marikina.

This as the SC upheld and modified the Dec. 1, 2003 ruling of the CA.

The writer of the en banc ruling dated March 12, 2013 was Associate Justice Jose C. Mendoza.

Associate Justice Jose P. Perez took no part as he was on official leave.

The petition questioned the validity of two sections of Marikina Ordinance No. 192, specifically sections 3.1 and 5, as they are sought to be enforced against respondents St. Scholastica's College and St. Scholastica's Academy-Marikina.

The City Government of Marikina sought to enforce sections 3.1 and 5 of its Ordinance No. 192 (series of 1994) against St. Scholastica's Academy-Marikina.

Section 3.1 requires a standard height of fences and walls and limits it to a maximum of one meter in height; fences of more than one meter in height are required to be of an open fence type, with at least 80% of it being see-through.

Section 5 prohibits the construction of walls and fences within the five meter parking area allowance located between the front monument line and the building line of commercial and industrial establishments and educational and religious institutions.

SSA-M was directed by a letter from the city government to demolish and replace their existing fence to make it compliant with section 3.1 and to construct the fence six meters back to provide parking space for vehicles to park pursuant to section 5.

SSA-M filed for prohibition with the RTC and also sought a preliminary injunction and temporary restraining order from the RTC.

The RTC issued a preliminary injunction, stopping the city government from implementing the demolition of the fence at SSM-A.

Subsequently, the RTC ruled in SSM-A's favor on the ground the requirements under sections 3.1 and 5 to demolish and relocate the fence and to move it back six meters would amount to expropriation of property without just compensation.

It also found the requirement that the fence be 80% see-through could run counter to the right of privacy of respondents.

The CA, on appeal, affirmed the RTC's ruling.

In so doing, the CA ruled the objectives of the ordinance did not justify the exercise of police power, as it did not only seek to regulate but also involved the taking of property without due process of law.

The CA found SSM-A was bound to lose an unquantifiable sense of security, the beneficial use of their structures and a total of 3,762.36 square meters of property.

For this reason, it ruled the ordinance could not be upheld as valid as it clearly invaded the personal and property rights of the respondents, was unreasonable, and an undue restraint on trade.

The City government appealed the CA ruling.

"Considering, therefore, the invalidity of Sections 3.1 and 5, it is clear that the petitioners were acting in excess of their jurisdiction in enforcing Ordinance No. 192 against the respondents. The CA was, thus, correct in affirming the decision of the RTC in issuing the writ of prohibition. Petitioners must permanently desist from enforcing sections 3.1 and 5 of the assailed ordinance on the respondents' property in Marikina City," the SC said.

"The Court joins the CA in finding that the real intent of the setback requirement is to make the parking space free for use by the public, considering that it would no longer be for the exclusive use of the respondents as it would also be available for use by the general public. Section 9 of Article III of the 1987 Constitution, a provision on eminent domain, provides that private property shall not be taken for public use without just compensation," it added.

"The petitioners (city government) cannot justify the setback by arguing that the ownership of the property will remain with the respondents (because) neither acquisition of title nor total destruction of value is essential to taking. In fact, it is usually in cases where title remains with the private owner that inquiry should be made to determine whether the impairment of a property is merely regulated or amounts to a compensable taking. The implementation of the setback requirement would, thus, be tantamount to a taking of a total of 3,762.36 square meters of the respondents’ private property for public use without just compensation, in contravention of the Constitution," the SC said.

The SC noted with displeasure the argument the invalidity of section 5 was properly cured by Zoning Ordinance No. 303 (series of 2000) "was only raised for the first time on appeal to this Court in the…Reply."

"…the two ordinances have completely different purposes and subjects. Ordinance no. 192 aims to regulate the construction of fences, while Ordinance no. 303 is a zoning ordinance which classifies the city into specific land uses. …the five-meter setback required by Ordinance no. 303 does not even appear to be for the purpose of providing a parking area. By no stretch, therefore, can Ordinance no. 303, "cure" section 5 of Ordinance no. 192," it said.

"For section 3.1 to be considered reasonably necessary for the accomplishment of the purpose and not be unduly oppressive upon individuals, it must be evident that no other alternative for the accomplishment of the purpose less intrusive of private rights can work. A reasonable relation must exist between the purpose of the police power measure and the means employed for its accomplishment, for even under the guise of protecting the public interest, personal rights and those pertaining to private property will not be permitted to be arbitrarily waived," it added.

"The principal purpose of section 3.1 is 'to discourage, suppress or prevent the concealment of prohibited or unlawful acts.' The ultimate goal of this objective is clearly the prevention of crime to ensure public safety and security. The means employed by the petitioners, however, is not reasonably necessary for the accomplishment of this purpose and is unduly oppressive to private rights," the SC said.

"The petitioners have not adequately shown, and it does not appear obvious to this Court, that an 80% see-through fence would provide better protection and a higher level of security, or serve as a more satisfactory criminal deterrent, than a tall solid concrete wall. It may even be argued that such exposed premises could entice and tempt would-be criminals to the property, and that a see-through fence would be easier to bypass and breach. It also appears that the respondents’ concrete wall has served as more than sufficient protection over the last 40 years. There is, thus, no showing that high concrete walls are insufficient in the prevention of crime," it added.

"Neither does it appear that there is no other alternative less intrusive of private rights which can accomplish the objective of crime prevention. Possible alternatives could be the establishment of a community watch group or more police outposts, or the installation of more street lights; all of which address the purpose of preventing crime without involving interference with private rights. The means employed in section 3.1 is, therefore, not reasonably necessary for the accomplishment of the purpose of crime prevention," the SC said.

"It also appears that requiring the exposure of their property via a see-through fence is violative of (respondents’) right to privacy, considering that the residence of the Benedictine nuns is also located within the property. The right to privacy has long been considered a fundamental right guaranteed by the Constitution that must be protected from intrusion or constraint. The right to privacy is essentially the right to be let alone, as governmental powers should stop short of certain intrusions into the personal life of its citizens," it added.

"The enforcement of section 3.1 would, therefore, result in an undue interference with the respondents' right to property and privacy. Section 3.1. of Ordinance no. 192 is, thus, also invalid and cannot be enforced against the respondents," the SC said. (PNA)

<P>HBC/PTR

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