A MANILA trial court has dismissed a complaint filed by the University against the private operator of the carpark building and its tenants, prompting UST to bring the dispute over lease contracts to the Court of Appeals.

Judge Silvino Pampilo of the Manila Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 26, in an order dated Jan. 16, said that since there is already a civil case between UST and carpark firm Selegna Holdings Corp. pending at Branch 47, the second one amounted to “forum-shopping.”

Pampilo dismissed UST’s motion for reconsideration as well as a request for him to inhibit from the case in an order last Feb. 20.

The Benedictine Law Center, a law office representing the carpark firm, sent copies of the orders to the Varsitarian last March.

Questioning the rulings, UST filed a petition for certiorari before the Court of Appeals last March 5.

UST sued Selegna and its tenants in December 2010. This came after an audit in which UST claimed to have found anomalies in Selegna’s lease contracts with tenants at the carpark’s commercial spaces. UST alleged that Selegna gave cheaper rates to certain lessees, which in turn supposedly charged higher rates to sub-lessees. UST also claimed it was not informed of such arrangements and as a result, was deprived of additional income. The University sought P3.5 million in damages and reimbursements for litigation costs.

This case was originally before Manila RTC Branch 173, which gave both parties a chance to reach an amicable settlement through “judicial dispute resolution” in November 2011. It was then raffled to Pampilo’s Branch 26.

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In the earlier case before Manila RTC Branch 47, the subject matter is the 2004 build-operate-transfer (BOT) contract between UST and Selegna. The court is dtermining whether both parties had complied with the deal.

In his Jan. 16 ruling, Pampilo said: “Both parties are claiming rental damages against each other in two separate actions. In effect, the parties are just pointing to each other as the one who committed the violation of the BOT contract … there is danger that Branch 47 and this court will render conflicting decisions ,” the order said.

UST Civil Law Dean Nilo Divina, whose law firm represents the University, told the Varsitarian that Pampilo’s order in effect reversed the injunction obtained by the University, which had prevented Selegna from entering into new lease agreements or renewing existing lease agreements without the consent of UST.

But the order is “not yet final as we have elevated the dismissal to the Court of Appeals,” Divina said.

Divina said the case could go all the way to the Supreme Court (SC).

“In case the parties fail to settle based on mutually acceptable terms, we are prepared to take all the relevant issues to the SC because we believe in the merits of our cases,” he said. R. D. Madrid

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