August 2012 Philippine Supreme Court Decisions on Civil Law

Here are select August 2012 rulings of the Supreme Court of the Philippines on civil law:

Civil Code

Accion reivindicatoria.  Article 434 of the Civil Code provides that in an action to recover, the property must be identified, and the plaintiff must rely on the strength of his title and not on the weakness of the defendant’s claim.

The first requisite is the identity of the land. In an accion reinvindicatoria, the person who claims that he has a better right to the property must first fix the identity of the land he is claiming by describing the location, area and boundaries thereof. Anent the second requisite, i.e., the claimant’s title over the disputed area, the rule is that a party can claim a right of ownership only over the parcel of land that was the object of the deed. It is settled that what really defines a piece of land is not the area mentioned in its description, but the boundaries therein laid down, as enclosing the land and indicating its limits. We have held, however, that in controversial cases where there appears to be an overlapping of boundaries, the actual size of the property gains importance. Leonardo Notarte et al. v. Godofredo Notarte, G.R. No. 180614, August 29, 2012.

Damages; actual and moral damages; factual and legal support required. Article 2199 of the Civil Code is the statutory basis for the award of actual damages, which entitles a person to an adequate compensation only for such pecuniary loss suffered by him as he has duly proved. As such, actual damages if allowed by the RTC, being bereft of factual support, are speculative and whimsical. Without the clear and distinct findings of fact and law, the award amounts only to an ipse dixit on the part of the RTC, and do not attain finality.

Absent a clear and distinct statement of the factual and legal support for the award of moral damages, the award is thus also speculative and whimsical. Moral damages constitute another judicial ipse dixit, the inevitable consequence of which is to render the award of moral damages incapable of attaining finality. In addition, the grant of moral damages in that manner contravenes the law that permit the recovery of moral damages as the means to assuage “physical suffering, mental anguish, fright, serious anxiety, besmirched reputation, wounded feelings, moral shock, social humiliation, and similar injury.” Moral damages are not intended to enrich the plaintiff at the expense of the defendant, but to restore the plaintiff to his status quo ante as much as possible. University of the Philippines, et al. v. Hon. Agustin Dizon et al., G.R. No. 171182, Aug. 23, 2012.

Damages; attorney’s fees. The general rule is that a successful litigant cannot recover attorney’s fees as part of the damages to be assessed against the losing party because of the policy that no premium should be placed on the right to litigate. Prior to the effectivity of the present Civil Code, indeed, such fees could be recovered only when there was a stipulation to that effect. It was only under the present Civil Code that the right to collect attorney’s fees in the cases mentioned in Article 2208 of the Civil Code came to be recognized.  Nonetheless, with attorney’s fees being allowed in the concept of actual damages, their amounts must be factually and legally justified in the body of the decision and not stated for the first time in the decretal portion. Stating the amounts only in the dispositive portion of the judgment is not enough; a rendition of the factual and legal justifications for them must also be laid out in the body of the decision.  University of the Philippines, et al. v. Hon. Agustin Dizon et al., G.R. No. 171182, Aug. 23, 2012.

Partition; oral partition. Under Article 1082 of the Civil Code, every act which is intended to put an end to indivision among co-heirs is deemed to be a partition even though it should purport to be a sale, an exchange, or any other transaction. Partition may thus be inferred from circumstances sufficiently strong to support the presumption.

The validity of an oral partition is already well-settled. It is not required that the partition agreement be registered or annotated in the OCT of the land to be valid. After exercising acts of ownership over their respective portions of the contested estate, petitioners are estopped from denying the existence of an oral partition.

Regardless of whether a parol partition or agreement to partition is valid and enforceable at law, equity will in proper cases, where the parol partition has actually been consummated by the taking of possession in severalty and the exercise of ownership by the parties of the respective portions set off to each, recognize and enforce such parol partition and the rights of the parties thereunder. Leonardo Notarte et al. v. Godofredo Notarte, G.R. No. 180614, August 29, 2012.

Quasi-delict; negligence of hotel. The hotel business is imbued with public interest. Catering to the public, hotelkeepers are bound to provide not only lodging for their guests but also security to the persons and belongings of their guests. The twin duty constitutes the essence of the business. Applying by analogy Article 2000, Article 2001 and Article 2002 of the Civil Code (all of which concerned [sic] the hotelkeepers’ degree of care and responsibility as to the personal effects of their guests), we hold that there is much greater reason to apply the same if not greater degree of care and responsibility when the lives and personal safety of their guests are involved. Otherwise, the hotelkeepers would simply stand idly by as strangers have unrestricted access to all the hotel rooms on the pretense of being visitors of the guests, without being held liable should anything untoward befall the unwary guests. That would be absurd, something that no good law would ever envision. Makati Shangri-La Hotel & Resort v. Ellen Johanne Harper, et al., G.R. No. 189998, August 29, 2012.

Special Laws

Patent; issuance; homestead patent prevails over land tax declaration. When a homesteader has complied with all the terms and conditions which entitle him to a patent for a particular tract of public land, he acquires a vested interest therein, enough to be regarded as the equitable owner thereof. Where the right to a patent to land has once become vested in a purchaser of public lands, it is equivalent to a patent actually issued. The execution and delivery of patent, after the right to a particular parcel of land has become complete, are the mere ministerial acts of the officer charged with that duty. Even without a patent, a perfected homestead is a property right in the fullest sense, unaffected by the fact that the paramount title to the land is still in the government. Such land may be conveyed or inherited.

As evidence of ownership of land, a homestead patent prevails over a land tax declaration. Jose Medina v. Court of Appeals & The Heirs of the Late Abundio Castaňares, G.R. No. 137582, August 29, 2012.

(Rose thanks Rory Lambino for assisting in the preparation of this post.)