G.R. Nos. 170270 & 179411 April 2, 2009
NEWSOUNDS BROADCASTING NETWORK INC. and CONSOLIDATED BROADCASTING SYSTEM, INC., Petitioners,
HON. CEASAR G. DY, FELICISIMO G. MEER, BAGNOS MAXIMO, RACMA FERNANDEZ-GARCIA and THE CITY OF CAUAYAN, Respondents.
Petitioners operate and run Bombo Radyo DZNC Cauayan (DZNC), an AM radio broadcast station, and Star FM DWIT Cauayan, an FM radio broadcast station, in Cauayan Citry, Isabela. Back in 1996, Newsounds commenced relocation of its broadcasting station, management office, and transmitters on propery located in Minante 2, Cauayan City, Isabela.
On July 1996, the Housing & Land Use Regulatory Board (HLURB) and Office of the Municipal Planning and Development Coordinator (OMPDC) affirmed and certified that the commercial structure to be constructed conformed to local zoning regulations, noting as well that the location is classified as a “commercial area”. The radio station was able to fully operate smoothly thereafter.
In 2002 however, when petitioners applied for a renewal of mayor’s permit, City Zoning Administratior-Designate Bagnos Maximo refused to issue zoning clearance on the grounds that petitioners were not able to submit conversion papers showing that the agricultural land was converted to commercial land. Petitioners asked the court to compel the issuance of mayor’s permit but the court denied the action. In the meantime, the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) Region II office issued to petitioners a formal recognition of conversion of the property from agricultural to commercial.
In 2003, petitioners again filed their application for renewal of mayor’s permit, attaching the DAR Order. Respondent Felicisimo Meer, acting City Administrator of Cauayan City denied the same, claiming that it was void on the grounds that they did not have record of the DAR Order.
The deadline lapsed on Febuary 15, 2004, and respondents Meer and Racma Fernandez-Garcia, City Legal Officer of Cauayan City, closed the radio station. Due to the prvosion of Omnibus Election Code which prohibits the closure of radio station during the pendency of election period, COMELEC issued an order allowing the petitioners to operate before Febuary 17, 2004, but was barred again by respondent Mayor Ceasar Dy on the grounds that the radio station had no permit. Nonetheless, COMELEC allowed them to run again until June 10, 2004 after elections.
Petitioners filed the case to the RTC and CA for the issuance of mayor’s permit but both courts denied the petition.
A municipal or city mayor is likewise authorized under the LGC to issue licenses and permits, and suspend or revoke the same for any violation of the conditions upon which said licenses or permits had been issued, pursuant to law or ordinance. In case of Cauayan City, the authority to require a mayor’s permit was enacted through Ordinance No. 92-004, enacted in 1993. However, nothing in the ordinance requires an application for a mayor’s permit to submit “either an approved land conversion papers from DAR, showing that its property was converted from prime agricultural land or an approved resolution from the Sangguniang Bayan or Sangguniang Panglungsod authorizing the reclassification of property from agricultural to commercial land.
In 1996, the HLURB issued a zoning decision that classified the property as commercial. Petitioners are also armed with several certifications stating that the property is indeed a commercial area. Also, petitioners paid real property taxes based on the classification of property as commercial without objections raised by the respondents.
Petitioners argued that this consistent recognition by the local government of Cauayan of the commercial character of the property constitutes estoppels against respondents from denying the fact before the courts. The lower courts had ruled that “the government of Cauayan City is not bound by estoppels, but petitioners classified that this concept is understood to only refer to acts and mistakes of its official especially to those which are irregular.
Whether the lower court is correct in contending that the government of Cauayan City is not bound by estoppels on the grounds that the state is immune against suits.
No. While it is true that the state cannot be put in estoppels by mistake or error of its officials or agents, there is an exception.
Estoppels against the public are little favored. They should not be invoked except in rare and unusual circumstances, and may not be invoked where they would operate to defeat the effective operation of a policy adopted to protect the public. They must be applied with circumspection and should be applied only in those special cases where the interests of justice clearly require it. Nevertheless, the government must not be allowed to deal dishonorably or capriciously with its citizens, and must not play an ignoble part or do a shabby thing; and subject to limitations . . ., the doctrine of equitable estoppel may be invoked against public authorities as well as against private individuals
Thus, when there is no convincing evidence to prove irregularity or negligence on the part of the government official whose acts are being disowned other than the bare assertion on the part of the State, the Supreme Court have declined to apply State immunity from estoppel. Herein, there is absolutely no evidence other than the bare assertions of the respondents that the Cauayan City government had previously erred when it certified that the property had been zoned for commercial use. The absence of any evidence other than bare assertions that the 1996 to 2001 certifications were incorrect lead to the ineluctable conclusion that respondents are estopped from asserting that the previous recognition of the property as commercial was wrong.
Respondents were further estopped from disclaiming the previous consistent recognition by the Cauayan City government that the property was commercially zoned unless they had evidence, which they had none, that the local officials who issued such certifications acted irregularly in doing so. It is thus evident that respondents had no valid cause at all to even require petitioners to secure “approved land conversion papers from the DAR showing that the property was converted from prime agricultural land to commercial land.”
Respondents closure of petitioner’s radio stations is clearly tainted with ill motvies. Petitioners have been aggressive in exposing the widespread election irregularities in Isabela that appear to have favored respondent Dy and his political dynasty. Such statement manifests and confirms that respondent’s denial of the renewal applications on the ground that property is commercial and merely a pretext, and their real agenda is to remove petitioners from Cauayan City and suppress the latter’s voice. This is a blatant violation of constitutional right to press freedom.
WHEREFORE, the petitions are GRANTED. The assailed decisions of the Court of Appeals and the Regional Trial Court of Cauayan City, Branch 24, are hereby REVERSED and SET ASIDE. The instant petition for mandamus is hereby GRANTED and respondents are directed to immediately issue petitioners’ zoning clearances and mayor’s permits for 2004 to petitioners.