This Court has already resolved three interrelated White Plains Association cases: (1) G.R. No. 55685 resolved in 1985; (2) G.R. No. 95522 decided in 1991 and (3) G.R. No. 128131 decided in 1998.
The ruling in the 1991 White Plains Association decision relied on by both the trial and appellate courts was modified by this Court in 1998 in White Plains Association v. Court of Appeals. Citing Young v. City of Manila, this Court held in its 1998 decision that subdivision streets belonged to the owner until donated to the government or until expropriated upon payment of just compensation.
The word “street,” in its correct and ordinary usage, includes not only the roadway used for carriages and vehicular traffic generally but also the portion used for pedestrian travel. The part of the street set aside for the use of pedestrians is known as a sidewalk.
Moreover, under subdivision laws, lots allotted by subdivision developers as road lots include roads, sidewalks, alleys and planting strips. Thus, what is true for subdivision roads or streets applies to subdivision sidewalks as well. Ownership of the sidewalks in a private subdivision belongs to the subdivision owner/developer until it is either transferred to the government by way of donation or acquired by the government through expropriation.
Section 335 of RA 7160 is clear and specific that no public money or property shall be appropriated or applied for private purposes. This is in consonance with the fundamental principle in local fiscal administration that local government funds and monies shall be spent solely for public purposes.
In Pascual v. Secretary of Public Works, the Court laid down the test of validity of a public expenditure: it is the essential character of the direct object of the expenditure which must determine its validity and not the magnitude of the interests to be affected nor the degree to which the general advantage of the community, and thus the public welfare, may be ultimately benefited by their promotion. Incidental advantage to the public or to the State resulting from the promotion of private interests and the prosperity of private enterprises or business does not justify their aid by the use of public money.
In Pascual, the validity of RA 920 (“An Act Appropriating Funds for Public Works”) which appropriated P85,000 for the construction, repair, extension and improvement of feeder roads within a privately-owned subdivision was questioned. The Court held that where the land on which the projected feeder roads were to be constructed belonged to a private person, an appropriation made by Congress for that purpose was null and void.
In Young v. City of Manila, the City of Manila undertook the filling of low-lying streets of the Antipolo Subdivision, a privately-owned subdivision. The Court ruled that as long as the private owner retained title and ownership of the subdivision, he was under the obligation to reimburse to the city government the expenses incurred in land-filling the streets.
Moreover, the implementing rules of PD 957, as amended by PD 1216, provide that it is the registered owner or developer of a subdivision who has the responsibility for the maintenance, repair and improvement of road lots and open spaces of the subdivision prior to their donation to the concerned LGU. The owner or developer shall be deemed relieved of the responsibility of maintaining the road lots and open space only upon securing a certificate of completion and executing a deed of donation of these road lots and open spaces to the LGU.
Therefore, the use of LGU funds for the widening and improvement of privately-owned sidewalks is unlawful as it directly contravenes Section 335 of RA 7160. This conclusion finds further support from the language of Section 17 of RA 7160 which mandates LGUs to efficiently and effectively provide basic services and facilities. The law speaks of infrastructure facilities intended primarily to service the needs of the residents of the LGU and “which are funded out of municipal funds.” It particularly refers to “municipal roads and bridges” and “similar facilities.”
Applying the rules of ejusdem generis, the phrase “similar facilities” refers to or includes infrastructure facilities like sidewalks owned by the LGU. Thus, RA 7160 contemplates that only the construction, improvement, repair and maintenance of infrastructure facilities owned by the LGU may be bankrolled with local government funds.
Clearly, the question of ownership of the open spaces (including the sidewalks) in Marikina Greenheights Subdivision is material to the determination of the validity of the challenged appropriation and disbursement made by the City of Marikina. Similarly significant is the character of the direct object of the expenditure, that is, the sidewalks.