Case Brief: The Province of Zamboanga del Norte v City of Zamboanga, et. al.

G.R. No. L-24440             March 28, 1968



Prior to its incorporation as a chartered city, the Municipality of Zamboanga used to be the provincial capital of the then Zamboanga Province. On October 12, 1936, Commonwealth Act 39 was approved converting the Municipality of Zamboanga into Zamboanga City. Sec. 50 of the Act also provided that “Buildings and properties which the province shall abandon upon the transfer of the capital to another place will be acquired and paid for by the City of Zamboanga at a price to be fixed by the Auditor General.”

Such properties include lots of capitol site, schools, hospitals, leprosarium, high school playgrounds, burleighs, and hydro-electric sites.

On June 6, 1952, Republic Act 711 was approved dividing the province of Zamboanga into two (2): Zamboanga del Norte and Zamboanga del Sur. As to how the assets and obligations of the old province were to be divided between the two new ones, Sec. 6 of that law provided “Upon the approval of this Act, the funds, assets and other properties and the obligations of the province of Zamboanga shall be divided equitably between the Province of Zamboanga del Norte and the Province of Zamboanga del Sur by the President of the Philippines, upon the recommendation of the Auditor General.”

However, on June 17, 1961, Republic Act 3039 was approved amending Sec. 50 of Commonwealth Act 39 by providing that, “All buildings, properties and assets belonging to the former province of Zamboanga and located within the City of Zamboanga are hereby transferred, free of charge, in favor of the said City of Zamboanga.”

This constrained Zamboanga del Norte to file on March 5, 1962, a complaint against defendants-appellants Zamboanga City; that, among others, Republic Act 3039 be declared unconstitutional for depriving Zamboanga del Norte of property without due process and just compensation.

Lower court declared RA 3039 unconstitutional as it deprives Zamboanga del Norte of its private properties.

Hence the appeal.


Whether RA 3039 is unconstitutional on the grounds that it deprives Zamboanga del Norte of its private properties.


No. RA 3039 is valid. The properties petitioned by Zamboanga del Norte is a public property.

The validity of the law ultimately depends on the nature of the 50 lots and buildings thereon in question. For, the matter involved here is the extent of legislative control over the properties of a municipal corporation, of which a province is one. The principle itself is simple: If the property is owned by the municipality (meaning municipal corporation) in its public and governmental capacity, the property is public and Congress has absolute control over it. But if the property is owned in its private or proprietary capacity, then it is patrimonial and Congress has no absolute control. The municipality cannot be deprived of it without due process and payment of just compensation.

The capacity in which the property is held is, however, dependent on the use to which it is intended and devoted. Now, which of two norms, i.e., that of the Civil Code or that obtaining under the law of Municipal Corporations, must be used in classifying the properties in question?

Civil Code

The Civil provide: ART. 423. The property of provinces, cities, and municipalities is divided into property for public use and patrimonial property; ART. 424. Property for public use, in the provinces, cities, and municipalities, consists of the provincial roads, city streets, municipal streets, the squares, fountains, public waters, promenades, and public works for public service paid for by said provinces, cities, or municipalities. All other property possessed by any of them is patrimonial and shall be governed by this Code, without prejudice to the provisions of special laws.

Applying the above cited norm, all the properties in question, except the two (2) lots used as High School playgrounds, could be considered as patrimonial properties of the former Zamboanga province. Even the capital site, the hospital and leprosarium sites, and the school sites will be considered patrimonial for they are not for public use. They would fall under the phrase “public works for public service” for it has been held that under the ejusdem generis rule, such public works must be for free and indiscriminate use by anyone, just like the preceding enumerated properties in the first paragraph of Art 424. The playgrounds, however, would fit into this category.

Law of Municipal Corporations

On the other hand, applying the norm obtaining under the principles constituting the law of Municipal Corporations, all those of the 50 properties in question which are devoted to public service are deemed public; the rest remain patrimonial. Under this norm, to be considered public, it is enough that the property be held and, devoted for governmental purposes like local administration, public education, public health, etc.

 Final Ruling

The controversy here is more along the domains of the Law of Municipal Corporations — State vs. Province — than along that of Civil Law. If municipal property held and devoted to public service is in the same category as ordinary private property, then that would mean they can be levied upon and attached; they can even be acquired thru adverse possession — all these to the detriment of the local community. It is wrong to consider those properties as ordinary private property.

Lastly, the classification of properties other than those for public use in the municipalities as patrimonial under Art. 424 of the Civil Code — is “… without prejudice to the provisions of special laws.” For purpose of this article, the principles, obtaining under the Law of Municipal Corporations can be considered as “special laws”. Hence, the classification of municipal property devoted for distinctly governmental purposes as public should prevail over the Civil Code classification in this particular case.

WHEREFORE, the decision appealed from is hereby set aside and another judgment is hereby entered as follows:.

(1) Defendant Zamboanga City is hereby ordered to return to plaintiff Zamboanga del Norte in lump sum the amount of P43,030.11 which the former took back from the latter out of the sum of P57,373.46 previously paid to the latter; and

(2) Defendants are hereby ordered to effect payments in favor of plaintiff of whatever balance remains of plaintiff’s 54.39% share in the 26 patrimonial properties, after deducting therefrom the sum of P57,373.46, on the basis of Resolution No. 7 dated March 26, 1949 of the Appraisal Committee formed by the Auditor General, by way of quarterly payments from the allotments of defendant City, in the manner originally adopted by the Secretary of Finance and the Commissioner of Internal Revenue. No costs. So ordered.


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