COA junks P2.97-M compensation claim vs. PSA

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    THE Commission on Audit (COA) has thrown out a P2.97-million claim for compensation filed by a property owner against the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) due to lack of jurisdiction.

    Petitioner Ben-Lor Realty Trading and Publishing Corp. asked the COA to order the PSA to pay it for rental of office space amounting to P2.89 million and attorney’s fees in the sum of P80,000.

    The claim was based on the Feb. 26, 2015 contract of lease signed between then National Statistician and Civil Registrar General Lisa Grace Bersales and Ben-lor president Benjamin Goquinco Jr.

    Under the agreement, the PSA was to occupy 3,900.68 square meters, covering the second to seventh floor, as well as the annex fourth floor, of the Ben-lor Building in Quezon City for a six-month period starting Jan. 1, 2015 to June 30, 2015.

    The monthly lease rate was set at P2.73 million inclusive of value-added tax and the cost of repairs together with the maintenance of 96 window-type air conditioning units supplied by the property owner.

    When the lease contract expired, Ben-lor sent a letter demanding that PSA pay P2.89 million as rent for the month of July, citing the lack of proper turnover of the previously leased space.

    The PSA replied that as early as April 2015, PSA employees have started clearing the occupied areas by removing equipment, furniture and supplies but the completion was allegedly hampered by Ben-lor’s acts. It added that two air-conditioning units owned by the agency were not released.

    After several additional exchanges, Ben-Lor requested the PSA to issue a certificate of non-payment but the latter refused, insisting that the alleged financial obligation does not exist.

    The property owner then filed the petition for money claim with the COA accusing the PSA of breach of its obligations by failing to make a proper turnover of the leased property and depriving Ben-lor of its right over the same space.

    In its reply, the PSA argued that it has vacated the property as of June 30, 2015 and had in fact turned over the key to the lessor the following day. It added that under the contract, any extension was supposed to be put down in writing.

    COA chairman Michael G. Aguinaldo and Commissioners Jose A. Fabia and Roland C. Pondoc said the claim cannot be given due course because the proper venue to resolve the dispute is before the courts.

    “In this case, the cause of action of Ben-Lor arose from a breach of contract. The determination of the rights and obligations of the contending parties rests with the regular courts,” it said.

    It added that the determination of whether or not there was an implied lease beyond the lease contract effectivity falls beyond the COA’s jurisdiction.

    “Unliquidated claims must be determined through judicial process. Unless a competent court determines the value of these claims, this Commission considers them as unliquidated claims,” the COA said.