CEBU City Hall got a much-needed break from the Court of Appeals in its property dispute with the Rallos heirs yesterday.
The CA stopped the lower court and its sheriffs from collecting funds or auctioning off city-owned properties in order to pay off P133 million to the Rallos family whose lot was supposedly expropriated by the city in 1963.
Associate Justice Gabriel Ingles of the CA's 18th division said he found basis to issue a writ of preliminary injunction against the Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 9 and the heirs of Rev. Fr. Vicente Rallos, among others.
Since the dispute involved public funds, issuing a writ was urgently needed to prevent “serious damage” to the city.
“It is best to preserve the status quo pending the final determination of this case, otherwise whatever decision hereon will be rendered ineffectual and nugatory,” Ingles said.
Associate Justices Pamela Ann Maxino and Carmelita Manahan agreed with the ruling.
Cebu City Mayor Michael Rama was only too happy with the court's ruling.
“Any relief will always be good,” Rama told Cebu Daily News.
Roy Rallos, in a separate interview, said the family will question the CA ruling.
“The CA's ruling is illegal since the Supreme Court already ruled with finality on this case,” he said.
Rallos is set to meet with his Manila-based lawyers to discuss his next steps.
He was, nonetheless, happy that the payment of the city to their family will be stalled anew.
“The city's monthly interest will increase. I'm 100 percent sure that the city will pay soon,” Rallos said.
In resolving the matter, Justice Ingles said he took into consideration the “convenio” presented by the city government.
A document of the old compromise agreement was discovered last year by city officials, through former Cebu City councilor Jocelyn Pesquera, showing a prior agreement between feuding descendants of the Rallos family in the 1940s.
The convenio was a decision of the Court of First Instance of the Province of Cebu dated Oct. 18, 1940.
The agreement would purportedly prove that the Cebu city government need not pay for a lot that was supposed to be donated by the Ralloses to the local government unit.
City lawyers only mentioned the convenio during a hearing last year.
Although the convenio was presented, the lower court still didn't reverse its ruling which ordered the city to pay at least P133 million to the Rallos.
RTC Judge James Himalaloan said the agreement isn't considered a “supervening event that transpired after judgement of the case which became final and executory.”
The Ralloses questioned the authenticity of the convenio since it was purportedly unsigned.
But Justice Ingles said it appeared that the Ralloses knew about the convenio before they filed a case against the city so they can claim payment.
“It appears, from the sampling of evidence, that respondents deliberately suppressed the convenio when they lodged the civil case,” Ingles said.
He said the non-disclosure of the convenio violated Cebu City’s rights.
“The city is now being made to pay the Ralloses with the use of public funds, just compensation for properties that were supposed to be donated and transferred to it without cost,” he added.
The city government already paid P56 million in 2011 and 2009 to the Ralloses.
Jade Ponce, one of Rama's legal consultants, said the fight isn't over yet.
He said the city still has to resolve many legal issues against the Ralloses to prove that Cebu City is not obligated to pay the family for the donated lot. /Reporter Ador Vincent Mayol