MANILA, Philippines – Evicted tenants of the Prieto-owned Mile Long property in Makati have appealed to President Rodrigo Duterte for help as the government successfully petitioned the court to reacquire the property it has been long claiming as its own.
"We are on your side, we are begging you, please help us," a sign reads on the door of the Creekside Makati Hotel, one of the 273 business and residence units in the property.
The sign adds: "We, lawful tenants, were misled. Please guide us and we will follow your lead."
Rappler took a snapshot of the sign on Friday, August 18, or the last day given to the tenants to vacate the property, but was not able to talk to the people who put it up.
A staff member from one of the building's administration offices talked to us on condition of anonymity.
"Galit sila (they're angry)" said the staff, referring to tenants. The staff is the liaison between Sunvar Realty Development Corporation and the tenants.
Sunvar's lawyer Alma Mallonga confirmed to Rappler that most of the units in the property have already been bought by the tenants, but only until 2027 when Sunvar's sublease with the government ends.
Duterte has made it clear he will evict Sunvar from the property, even hitting its owners – the Prieto and Rufino families – for alleged other tax liabilities to the government. The same family owns broadsheet Philippine Daily Inquirer, also Duterte's target for supposedly running unfair negative reports about him and his administration.
After a decade-long legal battle, Sunvar complied to the vacate order and promised to pay P500 million worth of back rentals to the government. It has, however, a pending petition for certiorari before the Supreme Court (SC) being handled by Duterte appointee Associate Justice Samuel Martires.
"'Yung iba galit po sakin...May kontrata ang tenants, may law firm dito tinawag niya 'ko, sabi niya ang nasa kontrata nila hindi Sunvar Realty, paano pumasok ang Sunvar? Sabi ko po parang Sunvar ang mother company natin. Sabi ng lawyer dapat kung sino lang 'yung ano, 'yun lang ang kakasuhan," the staff said, who is employed by the company that went into contract with the tenants.
(Some are angry at me. The tenants have contracts, there's a law firm here who called me to say their contract does not mention Sunvar Realty. They're asking, how are they connected to Sunvar? I explained that Sunvar is our mother company. The lawyer said that whoever was...that's the only one which should be sued.)
"Nakakalungkot din 'yung mga mawawalan ng trabaho sa administration. Nagulantang kami," the staff said.
(It's sad that we in the administration office will also lose our jobs. We were shocked.)
'Sunvar will try to help'
Rappler asked Mallonga where Sunvar and tenants stand at the moment. (READ: TIMELINE: Mile Long legal battle)
"We reiterated our position and our commitment that we have been endeavoring to honor our own commitment to the tenants, but you know you have to understand, we will have to have the government honor our own commitment to us. But unfortunately, our hands our tied," Mallonga said in an earlier interview.
The staff said that Sunvar met with tenants on Monday, August 14, when the Court of Appeals (CA) issued a resolution directing the Makati Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 141 to execute an earlier vacate order.
In that meeting, Sunvar supposedly told tenants it will pay the P500 million penalty fee to the government but that it will try to negotiate so they are not evicted.
"Ang gagawin hihilutin si government para hindi kami agad paalisin," said the staff.
(They were going to try and convince the government not to kick us out.)
But by Tuesday, August 15, Solicitor General Jose Calida arrived at the property with the Makati Court Sherriff to serve the notice to vacate, giving them only 3 days to pack up and go.
Photo by LeAnne Jazul/Rappler
Josie Bigayan–Paad, who owns a flower shop and tenant for 33 years, likened it to a dog being shooed away.
"Unfair, para kaming aso, tinapon ka, tinadyakan ka palabas, na alis kayo dito (It's unfair, we were like dogs, thrown out and kicked out and told to leave)," Paad said.
"Anong alternative, sinipa kami palabas. May tumulong ba? Wala (What alternative? We were kicked out. Did anybody help? No one)," Paad said.
Paad said she was able to send her 5 children to school through her small flower shop business.
"Dito 'yung source of income ko and then suddenly parang naglaho sa isang iglap. Nakakalungkot (This is my source of income and suddenly it's done. It's sad)," Paad said.
She is looking for a unit to transfer to, saying she can't afford to lose business especially that she has a weekly feeding program for the poor.
"We are hoping that there can be a process in which these issues can be ventilated, where they can be heard, to the extent that it's legally possible, to the extent that we can, Sunvar will try to ask this, that is the most that we can commit at this point," Mallonga said. – with reports from LeAnne Jazul/Rappler.com