Gov’t declared ‘legal owner’ of Imelda bro’s Anilao property—but beach developer should get paid first

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The Sandiganbayan has declared the government to be the “legal owner” of a Batangas beachfront property that formed part of the ill-gotten wealth of dictator Ferdinand Marcos’s brother-in-law Benjamin Romualdez—but there is a catch.

The court’s 5th Division ruled Ramon Quisumbing—who bought the property from the sequestered Philippine Journalists’ Inc. (PJI) in 1991 and turned it into the upscale Eagle Point Resort—to be a “builder in good faith” for being caught unaware of the unlawful nature of the transaction.

Even as it won the property, the government would have to first reimburse Quisumbing for the cost of improving the property, totaling P40 million.

Until then, Quisumbing “may retain possession” of the properties, the court said in a recent 49-page resolution.

A more favorable development for government lawyers was the court’s order for PJI’s former board directors Jaime Cura and Johnny Araneta to jointly and severally pay their company P500,000 in actual and compensatory damages.

Also held liable for the damages were the heirs of the late PJI board directors Angel Sepidoza and Renato Paras.

The assets of the Romualdez-owned tabloid publisher was sequestered as part of Civil Case No. 0035, the forfeiture case initiated against Romualdez, Marcos and his widow Imelda in 1987.

Although PJI was under sequestration, Cura sold and turned over the company’s 7,087-square meter property in Mabini, Batangas, to Quisumbing of Doy Realty Development Corporation (DRDC). The board directors approved the sale the following month.

The Supreme Court (SC) in October 1993 nullified the sale because PJI’s assets were in custodia legis, which meant the property could not be validly sold without prior authority from the Sandiganbayan.

But, for five years since he bought the property, Quisumbing was never served any notice that the government was seeking to have the transaction nullified.

All the while, Quisumbing connected the isolated property by road, and put up a water supply system and a power supply system backed up by a generator. The property became a high-end diving and snorkeling destination in the Anilao area.

Quisumbing only learned of the legal dispute when he was served a summons in November 1996, a month after the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) filed Civil Case No. 0172 to recover the illegally-sold property and impleaded him as a defendant.

“The Court finds that for the period June 5, 1991 to November 6, 1996, defendant Quisumbing was ignorant of any defect or flaw in his acquisition of the PJI properties. In this sense, he was a builder in good faith,” read the resolution penned by Associate Justice Rafael Lagos.

The PCGG did not present any evidence to contest Quisumbing’s claim that the improvements were made during the five-year period when he was unaware of the proceedings.

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