Palace to give up Arlegui Residence

PHILIPPINE NEWS SERVICE –PRESS Secretary Ignacio Bunye yesterday said Malacañang will abide by the decision of the Supreme Court to return the property known as the “Arlegui Residence” near the Palace to its rightful owner and would pay the rentals due as soon as the decision becomes final.

In its decision, the high tribunal ordered Malacañang to vacate the “Arlegui Residence” and to pay its owner, Tarcila Laperal Mendoza, P8 million in rentals dating back from 1975 when members of the Presidential Security Group ordered her to vacate the property and turn over the title to the Palace.

The 4,924.6-sqm property on Arlegui Street in San Miguel, Manila, served as the Presidential Guest House under Presidents Corazon Aquino and Fidel Ramos. It has also been occupied by the Office of the Press Secretary and the News Information Bureau.

“We just want to clarify that this incident happened several administrations ago, particularly during the time of former President [Ferdinand] Marcos. And when we took over, we didn’t have any idea about the background of this building,” Bunye said in an ambush interview.

Bunye also said his office has vacated the building when they were transferred to the New Executive Building. He said the Arlegui Residence is now being used by the Presidential Assistance Office.

“At any rate, we believe in the rule of law. If the lady entitled to just compensation and back rentals, if this is decreed by a final judgment of the Supreme Court, then so be it, the earlier the better. As they say, justice delayed is justice denied,” Bunye said.

“If there is an early resolution of this issue, with the final decision of the Supreme Court, definitely the owner should be given the appropriate compensation,” he added.

Bunye said he has no idea whether or not the government would appeal the high court’s decision.

“Maybe we had to go through the normal motion [for reconsideration] . But personally, I think that especially in the condition of the claimant, whatever benefit should be given [to the owner] should be given in due time,” he said.

As far as compensation is concerned, Bunye said the present budget has no provision for that but he said that with the SC ruling, this should be provided for “at the appropriate time.”

In ordering Malacañang to leave, the high court’s First Division upheld a Manila court’s ruling on Aug. 27, 2003, declaring Tarcila Laperal Mendoza as the property’s real owner.

Mendoza, 90, claimed that she was in possession of the property until the first week of July 1975. That was when armed men representing themselves as members of the Presidential Security Group of then President Ferdinand Marcos broke into her residence, and then ordered her and her family to vacate the property and to turn over the title to them.

They did so out of fear and only to find out later that a deed of sale had been executed over the property in favor of the government, and that she and her dead husband had supposedly sold the property on July 15, 1975.

“The evidence adequately supports a conclusion that the Office of the President, during the administration of then President Marcos, wrested possession of the property in question and somehow secured a certificate of title over it without a conveying deed having been executed legally…” the Court said in its decision.

“Accordingly, granting private respondent’s basic plea for recovery of the Arlegui property, which was legally hers all along, and the reinstatement of her canceled certificate of title, are legally correct as they are morally right.”

But the Court rejected the lower court’s order that the government pay Mendoza more than P2 billion. Instead, it ordered the Office of the President to pay Mendoza P20,000 a month beginning July 1975 until it vacates the property and gives it back to her.

The Court also ordered the government to pay an additional interest of 6 percent a year on the total amount due on the property until it is fully paid, and to pay Mendoza’s attorney’s fees equivalent to 15 percent of the amount due her.