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High court stops transfer of common train station site

Posted on August 02, 2014

THE SUPREME COURT has stopped the Department of Transportation and Communications (DoTC) and the Light Rail Transit Authority (LRTA) from transferring the site of the planned LRT-Metro Rail Transit (LRT-MRT) common station to the area in front of TriNoma mall from SM City North Edsa.

This as Transportation and Communications Secretary Joseph Emilio A. Abaya said Friday morning the department would likely move to next week the awarding of the LRT Line 1 Cavite Extension project contract -- which includes the common station design segment -- to the Ayala-Metro Pacific Investments Corp. (MPIC) consortium. "We are still waiting for two signatures in the Light Rail Authority (LRTA) Board Resolution and an Office of the Solicitor General (OSG)," Mr. Abaya said in a text message.

Acting on the petition for injunction which SM Prime Holdings, Inc. (SMPHI) filed last July 23, the high court issued an indefinite temporary restraining order on Wednesday barring DoTC and LRTA "from proceeding with the transfer" of the common station site.

The high court also ordered DoTC and LRTA to comment on SM Prime’s petition within 10 days from notice.

SMPHI sought reprieve from the Supreme Court, alleging that DoTC and LRTA violated a Sept. 28, 2009 memorandum of agreement (MoA) between SMPHI and LRTA that the common station should be built in front of SM City North Edsa.

The MoA had also granted naming rights in favor of SM Prime, which provided a P200-million grant to the government as "assistance for the construction and equipping of the common station".

The Sy-led firm said DoTC and LRTA violated a constitutional provision on the non-impairment of contracts when they unilaterally decided to change the site of the common station. "The solemn agreement to build the common station in front of SM City North Edsa cannot be substituted by the government without the consent of SMPHI," the petition read.

Furthermore, SM Prime said the P200-million grant has already become a public fund that should be used for the common station’s construction in front of SM City North Edsa, as stated in its MoA. "The expenditure of public funds by an officer of the state for the purpose of executing an unconstitutional act constitutes a misapplication of such funds," SMPHI argued.

The company said further that LRTA and DoTC deprived it of due process since they were not informed of the government decision to change the site for the common station. "If LRTA and DoTC believe that there exists a reasonable or legal ground to support their change of mind, they should have filed an action for rescission in the proper court of competent jurisdiction," SMPHI said.

Asked on his department’s reaction, Transportation Spokesperson Michael Arthur C. Sagcal replied via text: "As we have said before, the DoTC will respect court issuances."

"But as long as we have not been legally prohibited from doing our work, we will continue pushing for our infrastructure projects since this is our commitment to the public," Mr. Sagcal said.

Sought for further comment, SMPHI Vice-President for Legal Edgar Ryan C. San Juan said in a text message: "The project can and should go on."

"It’s just that they should honor the terms of our contract when implementing the common station component."

SMPHI, last month, lost a similar restraining order bid before a Pasay regional trial court. The lower court noted that Republic Act No. 8975 prohibits tribunals other than the Supreme Court from issuing TROs on national government projects.

The lone bidder for the LRT-1 extension project said last month it will exercise its option to design the common station. Light Rail Manila, a consortium led by MPIC and Ayala Corp., offered a P9.53-billion premium for the deal, which itself is estimated to cost some P64.9 billion.

The common station, once completed, will connect LRT-1 and MRT-3, as well as the proposed MRT-7, a 14-station railway between North Avenue, Quezon City and San Jose del Monte, Bulacan.

SMPHI shares ended Friday trading at P15.40 apiece, up eight centavos or 0.52% from their Thursday finish of 15.32 each.

MPIC is one of the three main Philippine units of Hong Kong-based First Pacific Company Ltd., the others being Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co. (PLDT) and Philex Mining Corp. Hastings Holdings, Inc., a unit of PLDT Beneficial Trust Fund subsidiary MediaQuest Holdings, Inc., has a majority stake in BusinessWorld. -- Mikhail Franz E. Flores and Chrisee Jalyssa V. dela Paz