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Arlegui mansion owner no longer sees home in historic house

First Posted 22:50:00 10/11/2007

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MANILA, Philippines -- Gone are the days when Tarcila Laperal-Mendoza would spend hours in her room at the imposing colonial mansion on Arlegui Street, lying on her bed and enjoying the time to herself.

The trees she planted in the once lush gardens are no more. The swimming pool where her nephews and nieces used to frolic around has become a murky, mossy pond, a "breeding place for mosquitoes and wild water lilies."

Before the 93-year-old matriarch and her family were driven out of their home in July 1975 by presidential guards of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, the "Blair Mansion" was an imposing, superbly maintained home.

Despite the residence?s impressive size (2,000 square meters) and site (a 4,924.2 square meter compound), however, "grand" would be the last word that Fortunata, Mendoza?s daughter, would use to describe it.

"We were a regular family living a simple life in a very decent house," Fortunata said in a phone interview from her residence in the US West Coast where the Mendoza family has been living for the past two years.

"This whole situation [the forcible ejection from the house] was a truly traumatic experience for the whole family, especially to my mother, who feels very bad about losing virtually everything we own," she said.

Fortunata, a practicing dermatologist in the US, said she did not really spend a long time in the mansion during her younger years as she lived in an apartment near the University of Sto. Tomas where she was studying for a college degree.

She, however, vividly remembered that the manor, which Tarcila Mendoza inherited from her parents, housed many antique furniture pieces and priceless paintings which were part of the family's heirlooms.

After the property was seized by the Marcos regime in 1975, the Arlegui house served as an adjunct of the Office of the President and later as the residence of Presidents Corazon Aquino and Fidel Ramos. It is now occupied by the finance and administration departments of the Office of the Press Secretary.

"Help me, help me," a distraught Mendoza said in a phone interview. "Please give me back the things which are really mine in the first place."

Mendoza cannot recall anymore how many bedrooms or bathrooms the mansion used to have nor can she remember her favorite antique piece.

"I am now 93 years old. How do you expect me to remember all of those?" she said.

Asked about the one thing she can never forget from the house, Mendoza said it was her favorite rocking chair that she wished she could still have.

When asked to recount the memories, good or bad, from when she still lived there, Mendoza broke down, unable to speak, and passed the phone to her daughter.

In an October 4, 2007 ruling, the Supreme Court nullified the decision of Manila regional trial court Judge Vicente Hidalgo awarding Mendoza P1.48 million in rent and P143.6 million in just compensation.

The high tribunal ruled that the matriarch should instead be paid P20,000 a month in back rentals from the time her property was seized in July 1975 until the government vacates it, inclusive of a six-percent interest rate and attorney's fees.

This means the family would get only P7.52 million from the government for the use of the property for 376 months, or more than three decades.

"Where can you find a prime property in the Philippines, fit to be the official residence of several Presidents, that can be rented for only P20,000 a month?" said Fortunata.

"This decision should be reconsidered for being unfair, arbitrary and unconscionable," she said.

While Mendoza felt "vindicated" and "appreciative" of the high tribunal's decision affirming her ownership of the property, she believed she should be paid just compensation for the mansion as well as for lost business opportunities.

She said that appraisals done by several independent bodies placed the current market value of the Arlegui property at almost P600 million, against the Supreme Court?s P2.38 million.

Mendoza said she should be paid at least P150 million and an additional P500 million as "rent plus interest and compensation for lost business opportunities."

But she stressed that she had no plans of ever returning to a place that was no longer hers.

She said she would not be able to bear to look at her former home in its pitiful state.

She might just become "melancholic," if not "heartbroken and severely depressed," because she would be constantly looking for the things which were no longer there, she said.

"Simply stated, there is nothing for her to go back to," Fortunata said.

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