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G.R. No. 126454 - BIBLE BAPTIST CHURCH, ET AL. v. COURT OF APPEALS, ET AL.

G.R. No. 126454 - BIBLE BAPTIST CHURCH, ET AL. v. COURT OF APPEALS, ET AL.

PHILIPPINE SUPREME COURT DECISIONS

FIRST DIVISION

[G.R. NO. 126454 : November 26, 2004]

BIBLE BAPTIST CHURCH and PASTOR REUBEN BELMONTE, Petitioners, v. COURT OF APPEALS and MR. & MRS. ELMER TITO MEDINA VILLANUEVA, Respondents.

D E C I S I O N

AZCUNA, J.:

This Petition for Review on Certiorari seeks to annul the Decision1 dated August 7, 1996, of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. CV No. 45956, and its Resolution2 dated September 12, 1996, denying reconsideration of the decision. In the questioned issuances, the Court of Appeals affirmed the Decision3 dated June 8, 1993, of the Regional Trial Court of Manila, Branch 3, in Civil Case No. 90-55437.

The antecedents are:

On June 7, 1985, the Bible Baptist Church (petitioner Baptist Church) entered into a contract of lease4 with Mr. & Mrs. Elmer Tito Medina Villanueva (respondent spouses Villanueva). The latter are the registered owners of a property located at No. 2436 (formerly 2424) Leon Guinto St., Malate, Manila. The pertinent stipulations in the lease contract were:

1. That the LESSOR lets and leases to the LESSEE a store space known as 2424 Leon Guinto Sr. St., Malate, Manila, of which property the LESSOR is the registered owner in accordance with the Land Registration Act.

2. That the lease shall take effect on June 7, 1985 and shall be for the period of Fifteen (15) years.

3. That LESSEE shall pay the LESSOR within five (5) days of each calendar month, beginning Twelve (12) months from the date of this agreement, a monthly rental of Ten Thousand Pesos (P10,000.00) Philippine Currency, plus 10% escalation clause per year starting on June 7, 1988.

4. That upon signing of the LEASE AGREEMENT, the LESSEE shall pay the sum of Eighty Four Thousand Pesos (P84,000.00) Philippine Currency. Said sum is to be paid directly to the Rural Bank, Valenzuela, Bulacan for the purpose of redemption of said property which is mortgaged by the LESSOR.

5. That the title will remain in the safe keeping of the Bible Baptist Church, Malate, Metro Manila until the expiration of the lease agreement or the leased premises be purchased by the LESSEE, whichever comes first. In the event that the said title will be lost or destroyed while in the possession of the LESSEE, the LESSEE agrees to pay all costs involved for the re-issuance of the title.

6. That the leased premises may be renovated by the LESSEE, to the satisfaction of the LESSEE to be fit and usable as a Church.

7. That the LESSOR will remove all other tenants from the leased premises no later than March 15, 1986. It is further agreed that if those tenants are not vacated by June 1, 1986, the rental will be lowered by the sum of Three Thousand Pesos (P3,000.00) per month until said tenants have left the leased premises.

8. That the LESSEE has the option to buy the leased premises during the Fifteen (15) years of the lease. If the LESSEE decides to purchase the premises the terms will be: A) A selling Price of One Million Eight Hundred Thousand Pesos (P1.8 million), Philippine Currency. B) A down payment agreed upon by both parties. C) The balance of the selling price may be paid at the rate of One Hundred Twenty Thousand Pesos (P120,000.00), Philippine Currency, per year.

x x x.5

The foregoing stipulations of the lease contract are the subject of the present controversy.

Although the same lease contract resulted in several cases6 filed between the same parties herein, petitioner submits, for this Court's review, only the following errors allegedly committed by the Court of Appeals:

a) Respondent Court of Appeals erred in finding that the option to buy granted the petitioner Baptist Church under its contract of lease with the Villanuevas did not have a consideration and, therefore, did not bind the latter;

b) [R]espondent court again also erred in finding that the option to buy did not have a fixed price agreed upon by the parties for the purchase of the property; andcralawlibrary

c) [F]inally, respondent court erred in not awarding petitioners Baptist Church and its pastor attorney's fees.7

In sum, this Court has three issues to resolve: 1) Whether or not the option to buy given to the Baptist Church is founded upon a consideration; 2) Whether or not by the terms of the lease agreement, a price certain for the purchase of the land had been fixed; and 3) Whether or not the Baptist Church is entitled to an award for attorney's fees.

The stipulation in the lease contract which purportedly gives the lessee an option to buy the leased premises at any time within the duration of the lease, is found in paragraph 8 of the lease contract, viz:

8. That the LESSEE has the option to buy the leased premises during the Fifteen (15) years of the lease. If the LESSEE decides to purchase the premises the terms will be: A) A selling Price of One Million Eight Hundred Thousand Pesos (P1.8 million), Philippine Currency. B) A down payment agreed upon by both parties. C) The balance of the selling price may be paid at the rate of One Hundred Twenty Thousand Pesos (P120,000.00), Philippine Currency, per year.

Under Article 1479 of the Civil Code, it is provided:

Art. 1479. A promise to buy and sell a determinate thing for a price certain is reciprocally demandable.

An accepted unilateral promise to buy or to sell a determinate thing for a price certain is binding upon the promissor if the promise is supported by a consideration distinct from the price.

The second paragraph of Article 1479 provides for the definition and consequent rights and obligations under an option contract. For an option contract to be valid and enforceable against the promissor, there must be a separate and distinct consideration that supports it.

In this case, petitioner Baptist Church seeks to buy the leased premises from the spouses Villanueva, under the option given to them. Petitioners claim that the Baptist Church "agreed to advance the large amount needed for the rescue of the property but, in exchange, it asked the Villanuevas to grant it a long term lease and an option to buy the property for P1.8 million."8 They argue that the consideration supporting the option was their agreement to pay off the Villanueva's P84,000 loan with the bank, thereby freeing the subject property from the mortgage encumbrance. They state further that the Baptist Church would not have agreed to advance such a large amount as it did to rescue the property from bank foreclosure had it not been given an enforceable option to buy that went with the lease agreement.

In the petition, the Baptist Church states that "[t]rue, the Baptist Church did not pay a separate and specific sum of money to cover the option alone. But the P84,000 it paid the Villanuevas in advance should be deemed consideration for the one contract they entered into - the lease with option to buy."9 They rely on the case of Teodoro v. Court of Appeals10 to support their stand.

This Court finds no merit in these contentions.

First, petitioners cannot insist that the P84,000 they paid in order to release the Villanuevas' property from the mortgage should be deemed the separate consideration to support the contract of option. It must be pointed out that said amount was in fact apportioned into monthly rentals spread over a period of one year, at P7,000 per month. Thus, for the entire period of June 1985 to May 1986, petitioner Baptist Church's monthly rent had already been paid for, such that it only again commenced paying the rentals in June 1986. This is shown by the testimony of petitioner Pastor Belmonte where he states that the P84,000 was advance rental equivalent to monthly rent of P7,000 for one year, such that for the entire year from 1985 to 1986 the Baptist Church did not pay monthly rent.11

This Court agrees with respondents that the amount of P84,000 has been fully exhausted and utilized by their occupation of the premises and there is no separate consideration to speak of which could support the option.12

Second, petitioners' reliance on the case of Teodoro v. Court of Appeals13 is misplaced. The facts of the Teodoro case reveal that therein respondent Ariola was the registered lessee of a property owned by the Manila Railroad Co. She entered into an agreement whereby she allowed Teodoro to occupy a portion of the rented property and gave Teodoro an option to buy the same, should Manila Railroad Co. decide to sell the property to Ariola. In addition, Teodoro, who was occupying only a portion of the subject rented property, also undertook to pay the Manila Railroad Co., the full amount of the rent supposed to be paid by the registered lessor Ariola. Consequently, unlike this case, Teodoro paid over and above the amount due for her own occupation of a portion of the property. That amount, which should have been paid by Ariola as lessor, and for her own occupation of the property, was deemed by the Court as sufficient consideration for the option to buy which Ariola gave to Teodoro upon Ariola's acquiring the property.

Hence, in Teodoro, this Court was able to find that a separate consideration supported the option contract and thus, its enforcement may be demanded. Petitioners, therefore, cannot rely on Teodoro, for the case even supports the respondents' stand that a consideration that is separate and distinct from the purchase price is required to support an option contract.

Petitioners further insist that a consideration need not be a separate sum of money. They posit that their act of advancing the money to "rescue" the property from mortgage and impending foreclosure, should be enough consideration to support the option.

In Villamor v. Court of Appeals,14 this Court defined consideration as "the why of the contracts, the essential reason which moves the contracting parties to enter into the contract."15 This definition illustrates that the consideration contemplated to support an option contract need not be monetary. Actual cash need not be exchanged for the option. However, by the very nature of an option contract, as defined in Article 1479, the same is an onerous contract for which the consideration must be something of value, although its kind may vary.

Specifically, in Villamor v. Court of Appeals,16 half of a parcel of land was sold to the spouses Villamor for P70 per square meter, an amount much higher than the reasonable prevailing price. Thereafter, a deed of option was executed whereby the sellers undertook to sell the other half to the same spouses. It was stated in the deed that the only reason the spouses bought the first half of the parcel of land at a much higher price, was the undertaking of the sellers to sell the second half of the land, also at the same price. This Court held that the cause or consideration for the option, on the part of the spouses-buyers, was the undertaking of the sellers to sell the other half of the property. On the part of the sellers, the consideration supporting the option was the much higher amount at which the buyers agreed to buy the property. It was explicit from the deed therein that for the parties, this was the consideration for their entering into the contract.

It can be seen that the Court found that the buyer/optionee had parted with something of value, which was the amount he paid over and above the actual prevailing price of the land. Such amount, different from the price of the land subject of the option, was deemed sufficient and distinct consideration supporting the option contract. Moreover, the parties stated the same in their contract.

Villamor is distinct from the present case because, First, this Court cannot find that petitioner Baptist Church parted with anything of value, aside from the amount of P84,000 which was in fact eventually utilized as rental payments. Second, there is no document that contains an agreement between the parties that petitioner Baptist Church's supposed rescue of the mortgaged property was the consideration which the parties contemplated in support of the option clause in the contract. As previously stated, the amount advanced had been fully utilized as rental payments over a period of one year. While the Villanuevas may have them to thank for extending the payment at a time of need, this is not the separate consideration contemplated by law.

Noting that the option clause was part of a lease contract, this Court looked into its previous ruling in the early case of Vda. De Quirino v. Palarca,17 where the Court did say that "in reciprocal contracts, like the one in question,18 the obligation or promise of each party is the consideration for that of the other."19 However, it must be noted that in that case, it was also expressly stated in the deed that should there be failure to exercise the option to buy the property, the optionee undertakes to sell the building and/or improvements he has made on the premises. In addition, the optionee had also been paying an amount of rent that was quite high and in fact turned out to be too burdensome that there was a subsequent agreement to reduce said rentals. The Court found that "the amount of rentals agreed upon x x x - which amount turned out to be so burdensome upon the lessee, that the lessor agreed, five years later, to reduce it - as well as the building and/or improvements contemplated to be constructed and/or introduced by the lessee, were, undoubtedly, part of the consideration for his option to purchase the leased premises."20

Again, this Court notes that the parties therein clearly stipulated in their contract that there was an undertaking on the part of the optionee to sell the improvements made on the property if the option was not exercised. Such is a valuable consideration that could support the option contract. Moreover, there was the excessive rental payments that the optionee paid for five years, which the Court also took into account in deciding that there was a separate consideration supporting the option.

To summarize the rules, an option contract needs to be supported by a separate consideration. The consideration need not be monetary but could consist of other things or undertakings. However, if the consideration is not monetary, these must be things or undertakings of value, in view of the onerous nature of the contract of option. Furthermore, when a consideration for an option contract is not monetary, said consideration must be clearly specified as such in the option contract or clause.

This Court also notes that in the present case both the Regional Trial Court and the Court of Appeals agree that the option was not founded upon a separate and distinct consideration and that, hence, respondents Villanuevas cannot be compelled to sell their property to petitioner Baptist Church.

The Regional Trial Court found that "[a]ll payments made under the contract of lease were for rentals. No money [was] ever exchanged for and in consideration of the option." Hence, the Regional Trial Court found the action of the Baptist Church to be "premature and without basis to compel the defendant to sell the leased premises." The Regional Trial Court consequently ruled:

WHEREFORE, judgment is rendered:

1) Denying plaintiffs' application for writ of injunction;

2) That defendant cannot be compelled to sell to plaintiffs the leased premises in accordance with par. 8 of the contract of lease;

3) Defendant is hereby ordered to reimburse plaintiffs the sum of P15, 919.75 plus 12% interest representing real estate taxes, plaintiffs paid the City Treasurer's Office of Manila;

4) Declaring that plaintiff made a valid and legal consignation to the Court of the initial amount of P18,634.00 for the month of November and December 1990 and every month thereafter.

All other claims of the plaintiffs are hereby dismissed for lack of merit.

No pronouncement as to costs.

SO ORDERED.21

On appeal, the Court of Appeals agreed with the Regional Trial Court and found that the option to buy the leased premises was not binding upon the Villanuevas for non-compliance with Article 1479. It found that said option was not supported by a consideration as "no money was ever really exchanged for and in consideration of the option." In addition, the appellate court determined that in the instant case, "the price for the object is not yet certain." Thus, the Court of Appeals affirmed the Regional Trial Court decision and dismissed the appeal for lack of merit.22

Having found that the option to buy granted to the petitioner Baptist Church was not founded upon a separate consideration, and hence, not enforceable against respondents, this Court finds no need to discuss whether a price certain had been fixed as the purchase price.

Anent the claim for attorney's fees, it is stipulated in paragraph 13 of the lease agreement that in the event of failure of either of the parties to comply with any of the conditions of the agreement, the aggrieved party can collect reasonable attorney's fees.23

In view of this Court's finding that the option contract is not enforceable for being without consideration, the respondents Villanueva spouses' refusal to comply with it cannot be the basis of a claim for attorney's fees.

Hence, this Court agrees with as the Court of Appeals, which affirmed the findings of the Regional Trial Court, that such claim is to be dismissed for lack of factual and legal basis.

WHEREFORE, the Decision and Resolution of the Court of Appeals subject of the petition are hereby AFFIRMED.

No costs.

SO ORDERED.

Davide, Jr., C.J., (Chairman), Quisumbing, Ynares-Santiago, and Carpio, JJ., concur.

Endnotes:


1 Rollo, pp. 133-145.

2 Id. at 147-148.

3 Id. at 59-64.

4 Denominated as a "Lease Agreement;" Records, pp. 9-11.

5 Records, pp. 9-10; Emphasis supplied.

6 A case for consignation (RTC Manila, Branch 46), a case for ejectment (Civil Case No. 134279-CV, MeTC) and the instant case which originated in the RTC (Civil Case No. 90-55437, RTC Manila, Branch 3).

7 Rollo, p. 20.

8 Rollo, pp. 9-10.

9 Id. at 22.

10 155 SCRA 547 (1987).

11 TSN, October 5, 1992, p. 12; TSN, January 26, 1993, p. 6.

12 Rollo, p. 155.

13 Supra, note 10.

14 202 SCRA 607 (1991).

15 Id. at 615.

16 Ibid.

17 29 SCRA 1 (1969).

18 Also a contract of lease.

19 Supra, note 17 at 4.

20 Id. at 5.

21 Rollo, p. 64; Emphasis ours.

22 Rollo, pp. 143-144.

23 Records, p. 10.

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