Appointment of commissioners; an aspect of due process- Eminent Domain/ Expropriation

In an expropriation proceeding commissioners should at least be appointed to determine just compensation in accordance with the procedure in Section 5 of Rule 67. Rule 67 need not be followed where the expropriator has violated procedural requirements. This is clearly expressed in Republic v. Court of Appeal, 454 SCRA 516. In the said case, the National Irrigation Administration (NIA) contended that it was deprived of due process when the trial court determined just compensation without the assistance of commissioners. The Court held as follows:

Rule 67, however, presupposes that NIA exercised its right of eminent domain by filing a complaint for that purpose before the appropriate court. Judicial determination of the propriety of the exercise of the power of eminent domain and the just compensation for the subject property then follows. The proceedings give the property owner the chance to object to the taking of his property and to present evidence on its value and on the consequential damage to other party of his property.

Respondent was not given these opportunities, as NIA did not observe the procedure in Rule 67. Worse, NIA refused to pay respondent just compensation. The seizure of one’s property without payment, even though intended for public use, is a taking without due process of law and a denial of the equal protection of the laws. NIA, not respondent, transgressed the requirements of due process.

When a government agency itself violated procedural requirements, it waives the usual procedure prescribed in Rule 67. This Court ruled in the recent case of National Power Corporation (“NPC”) v. Court of Appeals, to wit:

We have held that the usual procedure in the determination of just compensation is waived when the government itself initially violates procedural requirements. NPC’s taking of Pobre’s property without filing the appropriate expropriation proceedings and paying him just compensation is a transgression of procedural due process.

Like in NPC, the present case is not an action for expropriation. NIA never filed expropriation proceedings although it had ample opportunity to do so. Respondent’s complaint is an ordinary civil action for the recovery of possession of the Property or its value, and damages. Under these circumstances, a trial before commissioners is not necessary.

In National Power Corporation v. Court of Appeals, the Court clarified that when there is no action for expropriation and the case involves only a complaint for damages or just compensation, the provisions of Rule 67 would not apply, thus:

In this case, NPC appropriated Pobre’s Property without resort to expropriation proceedings. NPC dismissed its own  institute expropriation proceedings for the lots outside the 5,554 square-meter portion subject of the second expropriation. The only issues that the trial court had to settle were the amount of just compensation and damages that NPC had to pay Pobre.

This case ceased to be an action for expropriation when NPC dismissed its complaint for expropriation. Since this case has been reduced to a simple case of recovery of damages, the provisions of the Rules of Court on the ascertainment of the just compensation to be paid were no longer applicable. A trial before commissioners, for instance, was dispensable. (G.R. No. 106804, August 12, 2004, 436 SCRA 195).

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