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CA affirms decision junking petition to stop Army and Navy Club project

THE Court of Appeals (CA) affirmed its decision that dismissed the petition filed by an anticrime group seeking to stop the conversion of the historic Army and Navy Club in Manila into a boutique hotel and gaming facility.

In a two-page resolution penned by Associate Justice Ramon Garcia, the CA’s former Fifteenth Division denied the motion for reconsideration filed by the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC) seeking the reversal of its decision issued on February 28.

The appellate court, in the said ruling, held that the VACC violated the principle on hierarchy of courts in filing the petition for certiorari and prohibition against the project.

The appellate court explained that the decision of the Manila City government to enter into an agreement with private entities for the development of the Army and Navy Club and the approval of the development by the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP) cannot be considered a judicial, quasi-judicial or ministerial action that can be a subject of a petition for certiorari.

“The city of Manila’s execution of the lease contract with Oceanville Hotel and Spa does not fall within the ambit of judicial, quasi-judicial or ministerial function as the same is within its prerogative, powers and authority in the exercise of its executive function. On this court alone, certiorari and prohibition will not lie,” the February 28 ruling stated.

In denying VACC’s motion for reconsideration, the CA said the group failed to raise new arguments that would warrant the reversal of its decision.

“Reviewing the grounds relied upon by petitioner in its motion vis-à-vis with those discussed in the respective comment/opposition filed by respondents National Historical Commission of the Philippines [NHCP], Oceanville Hotel and Spa Corp., Vanderwood Management Corp. and the Office of the Solicitor General, we resolve to deny the said motion,” the CA said.

“Petitioner has not shown any cogent compelling reason to warrant a reversal or even the modification of the aforesaid resolution. Hence,  the dismissal of the petition for certiorari and prohibition must be sustained,” it added.

Concurring with the resolution were Associate Justices Leoncia Dimagiba and Jhosep Lopez. The CA earlier noted that, while it has concurrent jurisdiction with the regional trial court in issuing the writ of certiorari, direct resort is allowed only when there are special extraordinary or compelling reasons that justify the same.

“Unfortunately, the present petition for certiorari is bereft of any compelling reason or circumstance to warrant an exception to the rule,” it added.

The petition primarily seeks the nullification of the agreement among respondents Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (Pagcor), the city government of Manila, NHCP, Oceanville Hotel and Spa Corp. and Vanderwood Management Corp. for the development of the Army and Navy Club and to enjoin them from converting the said property into a boutique hotel and casino.

The CA said the VACC’s proper remedy is to file a civil action for annulment of contract, which falls under the jurisdiction of the trial courts.

In its petition,  the VACC  sought the appellate court’s issuance of a temporary restraining order to stop the continuing construction activities at the Army and Navy Club facility and, after a hearing, to issue a writ or preliminary injunction to stop its conversion into a hotel and gaming facility.

In 2014 the city government entered into a lease contract with Oceanville for 25 years. The contract also allows Oceanville to sublease any part of the Army and Navy Club.  The NHCP then approved Oceanville’s redevelopment plan to renovate and restore the facility for the purpose of using the facility as a boutique hotel. The plan was also approved by the city government.

Oceanville then entered into a memorandum of agreement with Vanderwood for the sublease of a portion of the facility for 20 years, or from November 2014 to November 2034. Vanderwood then started construction of a gaming facility, which it then subleased to Pagcor for a period of 15 years.

But efforts to redevelop the facility according to the petitioner were then overtaken by Oceanville, whose activities were temporarily stopped by the NHCP after the facility’s façade where destroyed and demolished, while some of the original parts of the building were also dismantled.

But the petitioner said the cease-and- desist order of the NHCP did not cancel its previous approval of Oceanville’s
redevelopment plan.

The petition said the “conversion will not only change the physical appearance and usage of the Army and Navy Club but also will have the effect of substantially altering its nature and identity, as written in the pages of the country’s history.”

Last year the VACC filed a P234-million plunder charge against former Pagcor Chairman Celestino Naguiat, Pagcor Director Jose Tanjuatco, Directors Enriquito Nuguid, Eugene Manalastas, lawyer Jorge Sarmiento, Bids and Awards Committee members Milagros Pauline Visqui, Ramon Jose Jones, Romeo Cruz, Annalyn Zogimann, lawyer Kathlene Delantar, Manuel Sy, former government corporate counsel Raoul Creencia and Jose Christopher Manalo IV, former chairman of Pagcor’s technical working group, for the award of the lease of space for a gaming facility in the Army and Navy Club to Vanderwood despite the firm’s nonsubmission of certain documents and noncompliance with some conditions indicated under the technical requirements of the bid.

 

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