Century Properties Inc. has scored a double legal victory after it hurdled two challenges involving the construction of its 73-story Gramercy Residences, a posh condominium in the heart of Makati City.
On May 23, Judge Leandro Catalo of the Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court Branch 256 threw out a case filed by a real estate company, Picar Development Inc., which accused Century Properties of illegally constructing five additional floors to its erstwhile 68-story luxury tower on Kalayaan Avenue.
Catalo denied Picar’s petition for the issuance of a mandatory injunction “to remove and demolish all floors built in excess of 68 floors allowed by the relevant building permit” of Gramercy.
Three days before Catalo handed down his ruling, the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) also dismissed a similar complaint filed by Picar against Century Properties and Makati City building officials. Public Works Secretary Rogelio Singson approved the DPWH decision.
In his ruling, Catalo said Picar’s amended complaint against Century Properties smacked of forum shopping.
The judge noted that Picar—which is planning to build a residential building near Century Properties’ condominium project—had filed a similar complaint against Century Properties in the DPWH.
“The court is convinced with the arguments of (Century Properties) that (Picar) has engaged in willful and deliberate forum shopping … therefore it is proper for the amended complaint to be dismissed with prejudice,” Catalo said in a three-page ruling, a copy of which was furnished the Inquirer.
“Dismissed with prejudice” means Picar is barred from pursuing similar legal action based on similar grounds against Century Properties in any court.
Emmanuel Cuntapay, acting executive director of the DPWH National Building Code Development Office, said he could not act on Picar’s request that his office investigate alleged irregularities surrounding Makati City’s issuance of permits for the Gramercy project.
In a decision issued on May 20, Cuntapay said his office “had been divested of administrative supervision” over local building officials with the passage of Republic Act No. 7160, or the Local Government Code of 1991.
“Wherefore, premises considered, (Picar’s) complaint is dismissed,” Cuntapay said.
In its Jan. 28 letter to the DPWH, Picar complained that Century Properties had failed to secure the necessary government permits before it built the five additional floors of Gramercy Residences.
Picar also said there was no indication that the Makati City building official had inspected the Gramercy project to ensure Century Properties’ compliance with the National Building Code.
In a letter to Cuntapay’s office, however, Makati City legal officer Armando Fabio Jr. said the amended building permit was given to Century Properties “after proper evaluation and assessment of all documents, plans and specifications … and after thorough inspection of the building.”
In an e-mailed statement to the Inquirer, Century Properties spokesperson Terrie Fucanan-Yu said Catalo’s decision “indicates our compliance to the regulations necessary for constructing additional floors in a residential building.”
“We stand by our 27-year track record in the industry and shall continue our compliance with regulatory procedures in the conduct of our business,” Yu said. “Moving on, our focus, as always, is to continue delivering our commitment to our clients and shareholders.”
All day Sunday, the Inquirer tried to contact Picar officials for their reaction to the rulings of both the DPWH and the Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court. Up to late evening, no Picar official came forward to comment.
In filing separate complaints in the Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court and the DPWH, Picar “created the possibility for the court and the DPWH to make conflicting decisions on the alleged illegal construction of the additional floors of the Gramercy Residences project,” Judge Catalo said.
“(Century Properties’) motion to dismiss the amended complaint is hereby granted and the amended complaint (of Picar) is hereby dismissed with prejudice on the ground of forum shopping,” he ruled.
Picar had opposed Century Properties’ motion to dismiss its amended complaint, saying the case it filed with the court was different from the one Picar had brought to the DPWH.
But Catalo said the subject of Picar’s lawsuit involved “the same issue” contained in the complaint it filed with the DPWH regarding the “alleged illegal construction” of the five additional floors of Gramercy Residences.
The judge also dismissed for lack of merit Picar’s petition that he inhibit himself from the case, saying the developer’s allegation of bias and prejudgment against him “deserved scant consideration.”