Laches is principally a doctrine of equity. Courts apply laches to avoid recognizing a right when to do so would result in a clearly inequitable situation or in an injustice.12 The principle of laches finds no application in the present case. There is nothing inequitable in giving due course to respondent’s claim for compensation. Both equity and the law direct that a property owner should be compensated if his property is taken for public use.
Eminent domain is the inherent power of a sovereign state to appropriate private property to particular uses to promote public welfare.13 No one questions NIA’s authority to exercise the delegated power of eminent domain. However, the power of eminent domain is not limitless. NIA cannot exercise the power with wanton disregard for property rights. One basic limitation on the State’s power of eminent domain is the constitutional directive that, "[p]rivate property shall not be taken for public use without just compensation."14
The thirteen-year interval between the execution of the 1980 deeds of sale and the filing of the complaint in 1993 does not bar respondent’s claim for compensation. In National Power Corporation v. Campos, Jr.,15 this Court reiterated the long-standing rule "that where private property is taken by the Government for public use without first acquiring title thereto either through expropriation or negotiated sale, the owner’s action to recover the land or the value thereof does not prescribe."16
Thus, in Ansaldo v. Tantuico, Jr.17 the Court allowed the landowners to seek compensation twenty-six years after the government took their land. In Amigable v. Cuenca, etc., et al.,18 Amigable filed an action to claim compensation more than thirty years after the government constructed the roads on her lot. In both cases, the property owners were silent for several years before finally bringing their claims to the attention of the authorities. In contrast, in the present case, respondent has steadfastly pursued his claim with NIA since 1972.
NIA faults respondent for "desisting from claiming just compensation from NIA in 1980,"19 referring to the 1980 deeds of sale which were never implemented. NIA conveniently fails to mention that, as the other party to the 1980 deeds of sale, it was equally delinquent when it failed to perform its obligations under the deeds.
NIA is partly to blame for the delay in this case. The trial and appellate courts found that NIA stalled and prolonged negotiations with respondent. Eight years passed before NIA even offered to buy the area occupied by the canals. More than three decades later, respondent has yet to receive an iota of compensation from NIA. In the meantime, NIA has been charging respondent and the other farmers in the area irrigation fees for the beneficial use of these canals.20
NIA’s conduct shows callous disregard for the rights of the Property’s owners and for NIA’s own duties under the law. As the expropriating agency in this case, NIA should have instituted the proceedings necessary to acquire the private property it took for public purpose and to compensate the Property’s owners. Section 2(e) of RA 3601, as amended by PD 552, expressly states that the NIA should "exercise the right of eminent domain in the manner provided by law for the institution of expropriation proceedings."21
The exercise of eminent domain entails payment of just compensation. Otherwise, title over the expropriated property cannot pass to the government.22 Following its own enabling law, NIA should have taken steps to acquire the affected portion of the Property either through "any mode of acquisition" or "the institution of expropriation proceedings."23 RA 3601, as amended, does not authorize NIA to simply appropriate part of the Property without instituting legal proceedings or compensating respondent.
G.R. No. 147245. March 31, 2005THE REPUBLIC OF THE PHILIPPINES REPRESENTED BY THE NATIONAL IRRIGATION ADMINISTRATION, Petitioner,
THE HONORABLE COURT OF APPEALS and FRANCISCO DIAZ, IN HIS CAPACITY AS ADMINISTRATOR OF THE INTESTATE ESTATE OF THE LATE MANUEL DIAZ, Respondents
Just compensation is "the fair value of the property as between one who receives, and one who desires to sell, x x x fixed at the time of the actual taking by the government."40 This rule holds true when the property is taken before the filing of an expropriation suit, and even if it is the property owner who brings the action for compensation.41
In affirming the trial court’s award, the Court of Appeals cited Garcia v. Court of Appeals,42 which provides an exception to the rule. In Garcia, the Court held that when the government takes property, not for the purpose of eminent domain, and the government does not initiate condemnation proceedings or other attempts to acquire such property, just compensation should be reckoned not at the time of taking but at the time the trial court made its order of expropriation.43
However, the Garcia ruling does not apply to the present case. The 15,677, 1,897 and 4,499 square meter portions – a total of 22,073 square meters ("Canal Sites") – of the Property identified in the 1980 deeds of sale are occupied by irrigation canals. There is no dispute that the Canal Sites serve a public purpose because the canals provide much-needed irrigation to farms in the locality. There is also no dispute that when NIA actually took over the Canal Sites, the purpose was to exercise NIA’s delegated power of eminent domain.
Just compensation for the Canal Sites must thus be computed as of the time of taking. In this case, respondent does not contest that NIA’s valuation of
P1.39 per square meter was the
approximate fair market value of the Property in 1972. Respondent even
agreed to this price when he signed the 1980 deeds of sale. At the
least, P1.39 per square meter was "that sum of money which a
person, desirous but not compelled to buy, and an owner, willing but not
compelled to sell, would agree on as a price."44