Republic of the Philippines
G.R. No. 181206 October 9, 2009
MEGAWORLD GLOBUS ASIA, INC., Petitioner,
MILA S. TANSECO, Respondent.
D E C I S I O N
CARPIO MORALES, J.:
On July 7, 1995, petitioner Megaworld Globus Asia, Inc. (Megaworld) and respondent Mila S. Tanseco (Tanseco) entered into a Contract to Buy and Sell1 a 224 square-meter (more or less) condominium unit at a pre-selling project, "The Salcedo Park," located along Senator Gil Puyat Avenue, Makati City.
The purchase price was ₱16,802,037.32, to be paid as follows: (1) 30% less the reservation fee of ₱100,000, or ₱4,940,611.19, by postdated check payable on July 14, 1995; (2) ₱9,241,120.50 through 30 equal monthly installments of ₱308,037.35 from August 14, 1995 to January 14, 1998; and (3) the balance of ₱2,520,305.63 on October 31, 1998, the stipulated delivery date of the unit; provided that if the construction is completed earlier, Tanseco would pay the balance within seven days from receipt of a notice of turnover.
Section 4 of the Contract to Buy and Sell provided for the construction schedule as follows:
4. CONSTRUCTION SCHEDULE – The construction of the Project and the unit/s herein purchased shall be completed and delivered not later than October 31, 1998 with additional grace period of six (6) months within which to complete the Project and the unit/s, barring delays due to fire, earthquakes, the elements, acts of God, war, civil disturbances, strikes or other labor disturbances, government and economic controls making it, among others, impossible or difficult to obtain the necessary materials, acts of third person, or any other cause or conditions beyond the control of the SELLER. In this event, the completion and delivery of the unit are deemed extended accordingly without liability on the part of the SELLER. The foregoing notwithstanding, the SELLER reserves the right to withdraw from this transaction and refund to the BUYER without interest the amounts received from him under this contract if for any reason not attributable to SELLER, such as but not limited to fire, storms, floods, earthquakes, rebellion, insurrection, wars, coup de etat, civil disturbances or for other reasons beyond its control, the Project may not be completed or it can only be completed at a financial loss to the SELLER. In any event, all construction on or of the Project shall remain the property of the SELLER. (Underscoring supplied)
Tanseco paid all installments due up to January, 1998, leaving unpaid the balance of ₱2,520,305.63 pending delivery of the unit.2 Megaworld, however, failed to deliver the unit within the stipulated period on October 31, 1998 or April 30, 1999, the last day of the six-month grace period.
A few days shy of three years later, Megaworld, by notice dated April 23, 2002 (notice of turnover), informed Tanseco that the unit was ready for inspection preparatory to delivery.3 Tanseco replied through counsel, by letter of May 6, 2002, that in view of Megaworld’s failure to deliver the unit on time, she was demanding the return of ₱14,281,731.70 representing the total installment payment she had made, with interest at 12% per annum from April 30, 1999, the expiration of the six-month grace period. Tanseco pointed out that none of the excepted causes of delay existed.4
Her demand having been unheeded, Tanseco filed on June 5, 2002 with the Housing and Land Use Regulatory Board’s (HLURB) Expanded National Capital Region Field Office a complaint against Megaworld for rescission of contract, refund of payment, and damages.5
In its Answer, Megaworld attributed the delay to the 1997 Asian financial crisis which was beyond its control; and argued that default had not set in, Tanseco not having made any judicial or extrajudicial demand for delivery before receipt of the notice of turnover.6
By Decision of May 28, 2003,7 the HLURB Arbiter dismissed Tanseco’s complaint for lack of cause of action, finding that Megaworld had effected delivery by the notice of turnover before Tanseco made a demand. Tanseco was thereupon ordered to pay Megaworld the balance of the purchase price, plus ₱25,000 as moral damages, ₱25,000 as exemplary damages, and ₱25,000 as attorney’s fees.
On appeal by Tanseco, the HLURB Board of Commissioners, by Decision of November 28, 2003,8 sustained the HLURB Arbiter’s Decision on the ground of laches for failure to demand rescission when the right thereto accrued. It deleted the award of damages, however. Tanseco’s Motion for Reconsideration having been denied,9 she appealed to the Office of the President which dismissed the appeal by Decision of April 28, 200610 for failure to show that the findings of the HLURB were tainted with grave abuse of discretion. Her Motion for Reconsideration having been denied by Resolution dated August 30, 2006,11 Tanseco filed a Petition for Review under Rule 43 with the Court of Appeals.12
By Decision of September 28, 2007,13 the appellate court granted Tanseco’s petition, disposing thus:
WHEREFORE, premises considered, petition is hereby GRANTED and the assailed May 28, 2003 decision of the HLURB Field Office, the November 28, 2003 decision of the HLURB Board of Commissioners in HLURB Case No. REM-A-030711-0162, the April 28, 2006 Decision and August 30, 2006 Resolution of the Office of the President in O.P. Case No. 05-I-318, are hereby REVERSED and SET ASIDE and a new one entered: (1) RESCINDING, as prayed for by TANSECO, the aggrieved party, the contract to buy and sell; (2) DIRECTING MEGAWORLD TO PAY TANSECO the amount she had paid totaling P14,281,731.70 with Twelve (12%) Percent interest per annum from October 31, 1998; (3) ORDERING MEGAWORLD TO PAY TANSECO P200,000.00 by way of exemplary damages; (4) ORDERING MEGAWORLD TO PAY TANSECO P200,000.00 as attorney’s fees; and (5) ORDERING MEGAWORLD TO PAY TANSECO the cost of suit. (Emphasis in the original; underscoring supplied)
The appellate court held that under Article 1169 of the Civil Code, no judicial or extrajudicial demand is needed to put the obligor in default if the contract, as in the herein parties’ contract, states the date when the obligation should be performed; that time was of the essence because Tanseco relied on Megaworld’s promise of timely delivery when she agreed to part with her money; that the delay should be reckoned from October 31, 1998, there being no force majeure to warrant the application of the April 30, 1999 alternative date; and that specific performance could not be ordered in lieu of rescission as the right to choose the remedy belongs to the aggrieved party.
The appellate court awarded Tanseco exemplary damages on a finding of bad faith on the part of Megaworld in forcing her to accept its long-delayed delivery; and attorney’s fees, she having been compelled to sue to protect her rights.
Its Motion for Reconsideration having been denied by Resolution of January 8, 2008,14 Megaworld filed the present Petition for Review on Certiorari, echoing its position before the HLURB, adding that Tanseco had not shown any basis for the award of damages and attorney’s fees.15
Tanseco, on the other hand, maintained her position too, and citing Megaworld’s bad faith which became evident when it insisted on making the delivery despite the long delay,16 insisted that she deserved the award of damages and attorney’s fees.
Article 1169 of the Civil Code provides:
Art. 1169. Those obliged to deliver or to do something incur in delay from the time the obligee judicially or extrajudicially demands from them the fulfillment of their obligation.
However, the demand by the creditor shall not be necessary in order that delay may exist:
(1) When the obligation or the law expressly so declares; or
(2) When from the nature and the circumstances of the obligation it appears that the designation of the time when the thing is to be delivered or the service is to be rendered was a controlling motive for the establishment of the contract; or
(3) When demand would be useless, as when the obligor has rendered it beyond his power to perform.
In reciprocal obligations, neither party incurs in delay if the other does not comply or is not ready to comply in a proper manner with what is incumbent upon him. From the moment one of the parties fulfills his obligation, delay by the other begins. (Underscoring supplied)
The Contract to Buy and Sell of the parties contains reciprocal obligations, i.e., to complete and deliver the condominium unit on October 31, 1998 or six months thereafter on the part of Megaworld, and to pay the balance of the purchase price at or about the time of delivery on the part of Tanseco. Compliance by Megaworld with its obligation is determinative of compliance by Tanseco with her obligation to pay the balance of the purchase price. Megaworld having failed to comply with its obligation under the contract, it is liable therefor.17
That Megaworld’s sending of a notice of turnover preceded Tanseco’s demand for refund does not abate her cause. For demand would have been useless, Megaworld admittedly having failed in its obligation to deliver the unit on the agreed date.
Article 1174 of the Civil Code provides:
Art. 1174. Except in cases expressly specified by the law, or when it is otherwise declared by stipulation, or when the nature of the obligation requires the assumption of risk, no person shall be responsible for those events which could not be foreseen, or which, though foreseen, were inevitable.18
The Court cannot generalize the 1997 Asian financial crisis to be unforeseeable and beyond the control of a business corporation. A real estate enterprise engaged in the pre-selling of condominium units is concededly a master in projections on commodities and currency movements, as well as business risks. The fluctuating movement of the Philippine peso in the foreign exchange market is an everyday occurrence, hence, not an instance of caso fortuito.19 Megaworld’s excuse for its delay does not thus lie.
As for Megaworld’s argument that Tanseco’s claim is considered barred by laches on account of her belated demand, it does not lie too. Laches is a creation of equity and its application is controlled by equitable considerations.20 It bears noting that Tanseco religiously paid all the installments due up to January, 1998, whereas Megaworld reneged on its obligation to deliver within the stipulated period. A circumspect weighing of equitable considerations thus tilts the scale of justice in favor of Tanseco.
Pursuant to Section 23 of Presidential Decree No. 95721 which reads:
Sec. 23. Non-Forfeiture of Payments. - No installment payment made by a buyer in a subdivision or condominium project for the lot or unit he contracted to buy shall be forfeited in favor of the owner or developer when the buyer, after due notice to the owner or developer, desists from further payment due to the failure of the owner or developer to develop the subdivision or condominium project according to the approved plans and within the time limit for complying with the same. Such buyer may, at his option, be reimbursed the total amount paid including amortization interests but excluding delinquency interests, with interest thereon at the legal rate. (Emphasis and underscoring supplied),
Tanseco is, as thus prayed for, entitled to be reimbursed the total amount she paid Megaworld.
While the appellate court correctly awarded ₱14,281,731.70 then, the interest rate should, however, be 6% per annum accruing from the date of demand on May 6, 2002, and then 12% per annum from the time this judgment becomes final and executory, conformably with Eastern Shipping Lines, Inc. v. Court of Appeals.22
The award of ₱200,000 attorney’s fees and of costs of suit is in order too, the parties having stipulated in the Contract to Buy and Sell that these shall be borne by the losing party in a suit based thereon,23 not to mention that Tanseco was compelled to retain the services of counsel to protect her interest. And so is the award of exemplary damages. With pre-selling ventures mushrooming in the metropolis, there is an increasing need to correct the insidious practice of real estate companies of proffering all sorts of empty promises to entice innocent buyers and ensure the profitability of their projects.
The Court finds the appellate court’s award of ₱200,000 as exemplary damages excessive, however. Exemplary damages are imposed not to enrich one party or impoverish another but to serve as a deterrent against or as a negative incentive to curb socially deleterious actions.24 The Court finds that ₱100,000 is reasonable in this case.
Finally, since Article 119125 of the Civil Code does not apply to a contract to buy and sell, the suspensive condition of full payment of the purchase price not having occurred to trigger the obligation to convey title, cancellation, not rescission, of the contract is thus the correct remedy in the premises.26
WHEREFORE, the challenged Decision of the Court of Appeals is, in light of the foregoing, AFFIRMED with MODIFICATION.
As modified, the dispositive portion of the Decision reads:
The July 7, 1995 Contract to Buy and Sell between the parties is cancelled. Petitioner, Megaworld Globus Asia, Inc., is directed to pay respondent, Mila S. Tanseco, the amount of ₱14,281,731.70, to bear 6% interest per annum starting May 6, 2002 and 12% interest per annum from the time the judgment becomes final and executory; and to pay ₱200,000 attorney’s fees, ₱100,000 exemplary damages, and costs of suit.
Costs against petitioner.
CONCHITA CARPIO MORALES**
|RENATO C. CORONA*
|ANTONIO EDUARDO B. NACHURA***
|ARTURO D. BRION
|ROBERTO A. ABAD
A T T E S T A T I O N
I attest that the conclusions in the above Decision had been reached in consultation before the case was assigned to the writer of the opinion of the Court’s Division.
CONCHITA CARPIO MORALES
C E R T I F I C A T I O N
Pursuant to Section 13, Article VIII of the Constitution, and the Division Chairperson’s Attestation, I certify that the conclusions in the above decision had been reached in consultation before the case was assigned to the writer of the opinion of the Court’s Division.
ANTONIO T. CARPIO
Acting Chief Justice
* Additional member per Special Order No. 718 dated October 2, 2009.
** Designated Acting Chairperson per Special Order No. 690 dated September 4, 2009.
*** Additional member per Special Order No. 730 dated October 5, 2009.
1 HLURB records, pp. 164-169.
2 Id. at 148-163.
3 Id. at 22.
4 Id. at 146-147.
5 Id. at 13-19.
6 Id. at 24-31.
7 Id. at 136-139.
8 Id. at 247-250.
9 Id. at 304-305.
10 Rollo, pp. 260-263.
11 Id. at 264.
12 CA rollo, pp. 8-55.
13 Penned by Associate Justice Vicente Q. Roxas, with the concurrence of Associate Justices Josefina Guevara-Salonga and Ramon R. Garcia; CA rollo, pp. 692-714.
14 Id. at 816.
15 Vide Petition, rollo, pp. 29-74.
16 Vide Comment, id. at 432-465.
17 Vide Leaño v. Court of Appeals, 420 Phil. 836, 848 (2001). Article 1170 of the Civil Code provides:
Art. 1170. Those who in the performance of their obligations are guilty of fraud, negligence, or delay, and those who in any manner contravene the tenor thereof, are liable for damages.
18 Mondragon Leisure and Resorts Corporation v. Court of Appeals, 499 Phil. 268, 279 (2005).
19 Fil-Estate Properties, Inc., v. Go, G.R. No. 165164, August 17, 2007, 530 SCRA 621, 628.
20 Heirs of Tranquilino Labiste v. Heirs of Jose Labiste, G.R. No. 162033, May 8, 2009.
21 REGULATING THE SALE OF SUBDIVISION LOTS AND CONDOMINIUMS, PROVIDING PENALTIES FOR VIOLATIONS THEREOF.
22 G.R. No. 97412, July 12, 1994, 234 SCRA 78, 96-97. The Court, in this case, suggested rules on the award of interest, viz:
x x x x
2. When an obligation, not constituting a loan or forbearance of money, is breached, an interest on the amount of damages awarded may be imposed at the discretion of the court at the rate of 6% per annum. No interest, however, shall be adjudged on unliquidated claims or damages except when or until the demand can be established with reasonable certainty. Accordingly, where the demand is established with reasonable certainty, the interest shall begin to run from the time the claim is made judicially or extrajudicially (Art. 1169, Civil Code) but when such certainty cannot be so reasonably established at the time the demand is made, the interest shall begin to run only from the date the judgment of the court is made (at which time the quantification of damages may be deemed to have been reasonably ascertained). The actual base for the computation of legal interest shall, in any case, be on the amount finally adjudged.
3. When the judgment of the court awarding a sum of money becomes final and executory, the rate of legal interest . . . shall be 12% per annum from such finality until its satisfaction, this interim period being deemed to be by then an equivalent to a forbearance of credit.
x x x x
23 HLURB records, p. 166.
24 Bataan Seedling Association, Inc. v. Republic of the Philippines, G.R. No. 141009, July 2, 2002, 383 SCRA 590, 600-601.
25 Article 1191. The power to rescind obligations is implied in reciprocal ones in case one of the obligors should not comply with what is incumbent upon him.
The injured party may choose between the fulfillment and the rescission of the obligation, with the payment of damages in either case. He may also seek rescission, even after he has chosen fulfillment, if the latter should become possible.
The court shall decree the rescission claimed, unless there be just cause authorizing the fixing of a period.
This is understood to be without prejudice to the rights of third persons who have acquired the thing, in accordance with Articles 1385 and 1388 and the Mortgage Law.
26 Vide Sta. Lucia Realty v. Romeo Uyecio, G.R. No. 176217, August 13, 2008, 562 SCRA 226, 234-235.
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