Dissension in the Court: October 2010

The following are decisions promulgated by the High Court in October 2010 where at least one Justice felt compelled to express his or her dissent from the decision penned by the ponente.

When is a case really final?  When can the High Court review a lower tribunal’s findings of fact? To some extent, each of the cases cited below deal with a long-standing rule and its’ exceptions that are, at the end of the day, really very broad.  The wide expanse of these exceptions is a fertile ground upon which Justices may disagree.  So with this background, and in the wake of the forthcoming Pacquiao-Margarito bout, it is timely to once again declare, “Let’s get ready to rumble!

1.            Interest and Immutability (Brion v. Bersamin)

The decision and dissent in the case of Apo Fruits Corporation and Hijo Plantation, Inc. vs. Land Bank of the Philippines promulgated on October 12, 2010 essentially involved a divergence of positions on: (a) the conditions in which a 12% legal interest may be imposed in the payment of just compensation, and (b) the principle of immutability of judgments.

A.   Legal Interest

In the main decision, Justice Arturo D. Brion ruled that the obligation of the State to make just compensation payments effectively constitutes a forbearance on the part of Government upon which interest should become due.

According to the ponente, “[a]part from the requirement that compensation for expropriated land must be fair and reasonable, compensation, to be ‘just,’ must also be made without delay. Without prompt payment, compensation cannot be considered ‘just’ if the property is immediately taken as the property owner suffers the immediate deprivation of both his land and its fruits or income.”

Justice Brion added: “[t]his is the principle at the core of the present case where the petitioners were made to wait for more than a decade after the taking of their property before they actually received the full amount of the principal of the just compensation due them. What they have not received to date is the income of their landholdings corresponding to what they would have received had no uncompensated taking of these lands been immediately made. This income, in terms of the interest on the unpaid principal, is the subject of the current litigation.”

Accordingly, Justice Brion finds that in the instant case, when the Land Bank of the Philippines (LBP) took the petitioners’ lands without the corresponding full payment, LBP became liable for the income the landholdings would have earned had they not immediately been taken from Apo Fruits Corporation and Hijo Plantation, Inc. (the “Petitioners”).

For the majority then, in just compensation cases, the unpaid amount of just compensation should earn interest at the legal rate of 12% per annum from the date the properties are taken up to the time of full payment.

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