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G.R. No. 138896 – 334 SCRA 127 – Political Law – Municipal Corporations – Eminent Domain – Expropriation – BP 129
Remedial Law – Civil Procedure – Special Civil Actions – Jurisdiction of Expropriation Cases- BP 129
In 1997, Brgy. San Roque of Talisay, Cebu, filed for an expropriation suit before the Municipal Trial Court of Talisay against the heirs of Franco Pastor. The MTC denied the suit because apparently under BP 129, MTCs do not have jurisdiction over expropriation cases as it is the Regional Trial Courts that are lodged with the power to try such cases. So Brgy. San Roque filed it before RTC Talisay but then Judge Jose Soberano, Jr. denied the suit as he ruled that the action for eminent domain affected title to real property; hence, the value of the property to be expropriated would determine whether the case should be filed before the MTC or the RTC. The judge also concluded that the action should have been filed before the MTC since the value of the subject property was less than P20,000.
ISSUE: Whether or not the RTC should take cognizance of the expropriation case.
HELD: Yes. Under Section 19 (1) of BP 129, which provides that RTCs shall exercise exclusive original jurisdiction over “all civil actions in which the subject of the litigation is incapable of pecuniary estimation; . . . . .” The present action involves the exercise of the right to eminent domain, and that such right is incapable of pecuniary estimation.
What are the two phases of expropriation cases?
The first is concerned with the determination of the authority of the plaintiff to exercise the power of eminent domain and the propriety of its exercise in the context of the facts involved in the suit. It ends with an order, if not of dismissal of the action, “of condemnation declaring that the plaintiff has a lawful right to take the property sought to be condemned, for the public use or purpose described in the complaint, upon the payment of just compensation to be determined as of the date of the filing of the complaint.” An order of dismissal, if this be ordained, would be a final one, of course, since it finally disposes of the action and leaves nothing more to be done by the Court on the merits. So, too, would an order of condemnation be a final one, for thereafter as the Rules expressly state, in the proceedings before the Trial Court, “no objection to the exercise of the right of condemnation (or the propriety thereof) shall be filed or heard.”
The second phase of the eminent domain action is concerned with the determination by the court of “the just compensation for the property sought to be taken.” This is done by the Court with the assistance of not more than three (3) commissioners. The order fixing the just compensation on the basis of the evidence before, and findings of, the commissioners would be final, too. It would finally dispose of the second stage of the suit, and leave nothing more to be done by the Court regarding the issue. . . .
It should be stressed that the primary consideration in an expropriation suit is whether the government or any of its instrumentalities has complied with the requisites for the taking of private property. Hence, the courts determine the authority of the government entity, the necessity of the expropriation, and the observance of due process. In the main, the subject of an expropriation suit is the government’s exercise of eminent domain, a matter that is incapable of pecuniary estimation.