[G.R. NO. 175490 : September 17, 2009]
ILEANA DR. MACALINAO, Petitioner, v. BANK OF THE PHILIPPINE ISLANDS, Respondent.
D E C I S I O N
VELASCO, JR., J.:
Before us is a Petition for Review on Certiorari under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court seeking to reverse and set aside the June 30, 2006 Decision1 of the Court of Appeals (CA) and its November 21, 2006 Resolution2 denying petitioner's motion for reconsideration.
Petitioner Ileana Macalinao was an approved cardholder of BPI Mastercard, one of the credit card facilities of respondent Bank of the Philippine Islands (BPI).3 Petitioner Macalinao made some purchases through the use of the said credit card and defaulted in paying for said purchases. She subsequently received a letter dated January 5, 2004 from respondent BPI, demanding payment of the amount of one hundred forty-one thousand five hundred eighteen pesos and thirty-four centavos (PhP 141,518.34), as follows:
Statement Date Previous Balance Purchases (Payments) Penalty Interest Finance Charges Balance Due 10/27/2002 94,843.70 559.72 3,061.99 98,456.41 11/27/2002 98,465.41 (15,000) 0 2,885.61 86,351.02 12/31/2002 86,351.02 30,308.80 259.05 2,806.41 119,752.28 1/27/2003 119,752.28 618.23 3,891.07 124,234.58 2/27/2003 124,234.58 990.93 4,037.62 129,263.13 3/27/2003 129,263.13 (18,000.00) 298.72 3,616.05 115,177.90 4/27/2003 115,177.90 644.26 3,743.28 119,565.44 5/27/2003 119,565.44 (10,000.00) 402.95 3,571.71 113,540.10 6/29/2003 113,540.10 8,362.50 (7,000.00) 323.57 3,607.32 118,833.49 7/27/2003 118,833.49 608.07 3,862.09 123,375.65 8/27/2003 123,375.65 1,050.20 4,009.71 128,435.56 9/28/2003 128,435.56 1,435.51 4,174.16 134,045.23 10/28/2003 11/28/2003 12/28/2003 1/27/2004 141,518.34 8,491.10 4,599.34 154,608.78
Under the Terms and Conditions Governing the Issuance and Use of the BPI Credit and BPI Mastercard, the charges or balance thereof remaining unpaid after the payment due date indicated on the monthly Statement of Accounts shall bear interest at the rate of 3% per month and an additional penalty fee equivalent to another 3% per month. Particularly:
8. PAYMENT OF CHARGES - BCC shall furnish the Cardholder a monthly Statement of Account (SOA) and the Cardholder agrees that all charges made through the use of the CARD shall be paid by the Cardholder as stated in the SOA on or before the last day for payment, which is twenty (20) days from the date of the said SOA, and such payment due date may be changed to an earlier date if the Cardholder's account is considered overdue and/or with balances in excess of the approved credit limit, or to such other date as may be deemed proper by the CARD issuer with notice to the Cardholder on the same monthly SOA. If the last day fall on a Saturday, Sunday or a holiday, the last day for the payment automatically becomes the last working day prior to said payment date. However, notwithstanding the absence or lack of proof of service of the SOA of the Cardholder, the latter shall pay any and all charges made through the use of the CARD within thirty (30) days from date or dates thereof. Failure of the Cardholder to pay the charges made through the CARD within the payment period as stated in the SOA or within thirty (30) days from actual date or dates of purchase whichever occur earlier, shall render him in default without the necessity of demand from BCC, which the Cardholder expressly waives. The charges or balance thereof remaining unpaid after the payment due date indicated on the monthly Statement of Accounts shall bear interest at the rate of 3% per month for BPI Express Credit, BPI Gold Mastercard and an additional penalty fee equivalent to another 3% of the amount due for every month or a fraction of a month's delay. PROVIDED that if there occurs any change on the prevailing market rates, BCC shall have the option to adjust the rate of interest and/or penalty fee due on the outstanding obligation with prior notice to the cardholder. The Cardholder hereby authorizes BCC to correspondingly increase the rate of such interest [in] the event of changes in the prevailing market rates, and to charge additional service fees as may be deemed necessary in order to maintain its service to the Cardholder. A CARD with outstanding balance unpaid after thirty (30) days from original billing statement date shall automatically be suspended, and those with accounts unpaid after ninety (90) days from said original billing/statement date shall automatically be cancel (sic), without prejudice to BCC's right to suspend or cancel any card anytime and for whatever reason. In case of default in his obligation as provided herein, Cardholder shall surrender his/her card to BCC and in addition to the interest and penalty charges aforementioned, pay the following liquidated damages and/or fees (a) a collection fee of 25% of the amount due if the account is referred to a collection agency or attorney; (b) service fee for every dishonored check issued by the cardholder in payment of his account without prejudice, however, to BCC's right of considering Cardholder's account, and (c) a final fee equivalent to 25% of the unpaid balance, exclusive of litigation expenses and judicial cost, if the payment of the account is enforced though court action. Venue of all civil suits to enforce this Agreement or any other suit directly or indirectly arising from the relationship between the parties as established herein, whether arising from crimes, negligence or breach thereof, shall be in the process of courts of the City of Makati or in other courts at the option of BCC.4 (Emphasis supplied.)Ï‚Î·Î±Ã±rÎ¿blÎµÅ¡ Î½Î¹râ€ Ï…Î±l lÎ±Ï‰ lÎ¹brÎ±rÃ¿
For failure of petitioner Macalinao to settle her obligations, respondent BPI filed with the Metropolitan Trial Court (MeTC) of Makati City a complaint for a sum of money against her and her husband, Danilo SJ. Macalinao. This was raffled to Branch 66 of the MeTC and was docketed as Civil Case No. 84462 entitled Bank of the Philippine Islands v. Spouses Ileana Dr. Macalinao and Danilo SJ. Macalinao.5
In said complaint, respondent BPI prayed for the payment of the amount of one hundred fifty-four thousand six hundred eight pesos and seventy-eight centavos (PhP 154,608.78) plus 3.25% finance charges and late payment charges equivalent to 6% of the amount due from February 29, 2004 and an amount equivalent to 25% of the total amount due as attorney's fees, and of the cost of suit.6
After the summons and a copy of the complaint were served upon petitioner Macalinao and her husband, they failed to file their Answer.7 Thus, respondent BPI moved that judgment be rendered in accordance with Section 6 of the Rule on Summary Procedure.8 This was granted in an Order dated June 16, 2004.9 Thereafter, respondent BPI submitted its documentary evidence.10 Ï‚Î·Î±Ã±rÎ¿blÎµÅ¡ Î½Î¹râ€ Ï…Î±l lÎ±Ï‰ lÎ¹brÎ±rÃ¿
In its Decision dated August 2, 2004, the MeTC ruled in favor of respondent BPI and ordered petitioner Macalinao and her husband to pay the amount of PhP 141,518.34 plus interest and penalty charges of 2% per month, to wit:
WHEREFORE, finding merit in the allegations of the complaint supported by documentary evidence, judgment is hereby rendered in favor of the plaintiff, Bank of the Philippine Islands and against defendant-spouses Ileana DR Macalinao and Danilo SJ Macalinao by ordering the latter to pay the former jointly and severally the following:
1. The amount of PESOS: ONE HUNDRED FORTY ONE THOUSAND FIVE HUNDRED EIGHTEEN AND 34/100 (P141,518.34) plus interest and penalty charges of 2% per month from January 05, 2004 until fully paid;
2. P10,000.00 as and by way of attorney's fees; andcralawlibrary
3. Cost of suit.
Only petitioner Macalinao and her husband appealed to the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Makati City, their recourse docketed as Civil Case No. 04-1153. In its Decision dated October 14, 2004, the RTC affirmed in toto the decision of the MeTC and held:
In any event, the sum of P141,518.34 adjudged by the trial court appeared to be the result of a recomputation at the reduced rate of 2% per month. Note that the total amount sought by the plaintiff-appellee was P154,608.75 exclusive of finance charge of 3.25% per month and late payment charge of 6% per month.
WHEREFORE, the appealed decision is hereby affirmed in toto.
No pronouncement as to costs.
Unconvinced, petitioner Macalinao filed a Petition for Review with the CA, which was docketed as CA-G.R. SP No. 92031. The CA affirmed with modification the Decision of the RTC:
WHEREFORE, the appealed decision is AFFIRMED but MODIFIED with respect to the total amount due and interest rate. Accordingly, petitioners are jointly and severally ordered to pay respondent Bank of the Philippine Islands the following:
1. The amount of One Hundred Twenty Six Thousand Seven Hundred Six Pesos and Seventy Centavos plus interest and penalty charges of 3% per month from January 5, 2004 until fully paid;
2. P10,000.00 as and by way of attorney's fees; andcralawlibrary
3. Cost of Suit.
Although sued jointly with her husband, petitioner Macalinao was the only one who filed the petition before the CA since her husband already passed away on October 18, 2005.14
In its assailed decision, the CA held that the amount of PhP 141,518.34 (the amount sought to be satisfied in the demand letter of respondent BPI) is clearly not the result of the re-computation at the reduced interest rate as previous higher interest rates were already incorporated in the said amount. Thus, the said amount should not be made as basis in computing the total obligation of petitioner Macalinao. Further, the CA also emphasized that respondent BPI should not compound the interest in the instant case absent a stipulation to that effect. The CA also held, however, that the MeTC erred in modifying the amount of interest rate from 3% monthly to only 2% considering that petitioner Macalinao freely availed herself of the credit card facility offered by respondent BPI to the general public. It explained that contracts of adhesion are not invalid per se and are not entirely prohibited.
Petitioner Macalinao's motion for reconsideration was denied by the CA in its Resolution dated November 21, 2006. Hence, petitioner Macalinao is now before this Court with the following assigned errors:
THE REDUCTION OF INTEREST RATE, FROM 9.25% TO 2%, SHOULD BE UPHELD SINCE THE STIPULATED RATE OF INTEREST WAS UNCONSCIONABLE AND INIQUITOUS, AND THUS ILLEGAL.
THE COURT OF APPEALS ARBITRARILY MODIFIED THE REDUCED RATE OF INTEREST FROM 2% TO 3%, CONTRARY TO THE TENOR OF ITS OWN DECISION.
THE COURT A QUO, INSTEAD OF PROCEEDING WITH A RECOMPUTATION, SHOULD HAVE DISMISSED THE CASE FOR FAILURE OF RESPONDENT BPI TO PROVE THE CORRECT AMOUNT OF PETITIONER'S OBLIGATION, OR IN THE ALTERNATIVE, REMANDED THE CASE TO THE LOWER COURT FOR RESPONDENT BPI TO PRESENT PROOF OF THE CORRECT AMOUNT THEREOF.
The petition is partly meritorious.
The Interest Rate and Penalty Charge of 3% Per Month or 36% Per Annum Should Be Reduced to 2% Per Month or 24% Per Annum
In its Complaint, respondent BPI originally imposed the interest and penalty charges at the rate of 9.25% per month or 111% per annum. This was declared as unconscionable by the lower courts for being clearly excessive, and was thus reduced to 2% per month or 24% per annum. On appeal, the CA modified the rate of interest and penalty charge and increased them to 3% per month or 36% per annum based on the Terms and Conditions Governing the Issuance and Use of the BPI Credit Card, which governs the transaction between petitioner Macalinao and respondent BPI.
In the instant petition, Macalinao claims that the interest rate and penalty charge of 3% per month imposed by the CA is iniquitous as the same translates to 36% per annum or thrice the legal rate of interest.15 On the other hand, respondent BPI asserts that said interest rate and penalty charge are reasonable as the same are based on the Terms and Conditions Governing the Issuance and Use of the BPI Credit Card.16
We find for petitioner. We are of the opinion that the interest rate and penalty charge of 3% per month should be equitably reduced to 2% per month or 24% per annum.
Indeed, in the Terms and Conditions Governing the Issuance and Use of the BPI Credit Card, there was a stipulation on the 3% interest rate. Nevertheless, it should be noted that this is not the first time that this Court has considered the interest rate of 36% per annum as excessive and unconscionable. We held in Chua v. Timan:17
The stipulated interest rates of 7% and 5% per month imposed on respondents' loans must be equitably reduced to 1% per month or 12% per annum. We need not unsettle the principle we had affirmed in a plethora of cases that stipulated interest rates of 3% per month and higher are excessive, iniquitous, unconscionable and exorbitant. Such stipulations are void for being contrary to morals, if not against the law. While C.B. Circular No. 905-82, which took effect on January 1, 1983, effectively removed the ceiling on interest rates for both secured and unsecured loans, regardless of maturity, nothing in the said circular could possibly be read as granting carte blanche authority to lenders to raise interest rates to levels which would either enslave their borrowers or lead to a hemorrhaging of their assets. (Emphasis supplied.)
Since the stipulation on the interest rate is void, it is as if there was no express contract thereon. Hence, courts may reduce the interest rate as reason and equity demand.18
The same is true with respect to the penalty charge. Notably, under the Terms and Conditions Governing the Issuance and Use of the BPI Credit Card, it was also stated therein that respondent BPI shall impose an additional penalty charge of 3% per month. Pertinently, Article 1229 of the Civil Code states:
Art. 1229. The judge shall equitably reduce the penalty when the principal obligation has been partly or irregularly complied with by the debtor. Even if there has been no performance, the penalty may also be reduced by the courts if it is iniquitous or unconscionable.
In exercising this power to determine what is iniquitous and unconscionable, courts must consider the circumstances of each case since what may be iniquitous and unconscionable in one may be totally just and equitable in another.19
In the instant case, the records would reveal that petitioner Macalinao made partial payments to respondent BPI, as indicated in her Billing Statements.20 Further, the stipulated penalty charge of 3% per month or 36% per annum, in addition to regular interests, is indeed iniquitous and unconscionable.
Thus, under the circumstances, the Court finds it equitable to reduce the interest rate pegged by the CA at 1.5% monthly to 1% monthly and penalty charge fixed by the CA at 1.5% monthly to 1% monthly or a total of 2% per month or 24% per annum in line with the prevailing jurisprudence and in accordance with Art. 1229 of the Civil Code.
There Is No Basis for the Dismissal of the Case, Much Less a Remand of the Same for Further Reception of Evidence
Petitioner Macalinao claims that the basis of the re-computation of the CA, that is, the amount of PhP 94,843.70 stated on the October 27, 2002 Statement of Account, was not the amount of the principal obligation. Thus, this allegedly necessitates a re-examination of the evidence presented by the parties. For this reason, petitioner Macalinao further contends that the dismissal of the case or its remand to the lower court would be a more appropriate disposition of the case.
Such contention is untenable. Based on the records, the summons and a copy of the complaint were served upon petitioner Macalinao and her husband on May 4, 2004. Nevertheless, they failed to file their Answer despite such service. Thus, respondent BPI moved that judgment be rendered accordingly.21 Consequently, a decision was rendered by the MeTC on the basis of the evidence submitted by respondent BPI. This is in consonance with Sec. 6 of the Revised Rule on Summary Procedure, which states:
Sec. 6. Effect of failure to answer. - Should the defendant fail to answer the complaint within the period above provided, the court, motu proprio, or on motion of the plaintiff, shall render judgment as may be warranted by the facts alleged in the complaint and limited to what is prayed for therein: Provided, however, that the court may in its discretion reduce the amount of damages and attorney's fees claimed for being excessive or otherwise unconscionable. This is without prejudice to the applicability of Section 3(c), Rule 10 of the Rules of Court, if there are two or more defendants. (As amended by the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure; emphasis supplied.)
Considering the foregoing rule, respondent BPI should not be made to suffer for petitioner Macalinao's failure to file an answer and concomitantly, to allow the latter to submit additional evidence by dismissing or remanding the case for further reception of evidence. Significantly, petitioner Macalinao herself admitted the existence of her obligation to respondent BPI, albeit with reservation as to the principal amount. Thus, a dismissal of the case would cause great injustice to respondent BPI. Similarly, a remand of the case for further reception of evidence would unduly prolong the proceedings of the instant case and render inutile the proceedings conducted before the lower courts.
Significantly, the CA correctly used the beginning balance of PhP 94,843.70 as basis for the re-computation of the interest considering that this was the first amount which appeared on the Statement of Account of petitioner Macalinao. There is no other amount on which the re-computation could be based, as can be gathered from the evidence on record. Furthermore, barring a showing that the factual findings complained of are totally devoid of support in the record or that they are so glaringly erroneous as to constitute serious abuse of discretion, such findings must stand, for this Court is not expected or required to examine or contrast the evidence submitted by the parties.22
In view of the ruling that only 1% monthly interest and 1% penalty charge can be applied to the beginning balance of PhP 94,843.70, this Court finds the following computation more appropriate:
Statement Date Previous Balance Purchases (Payments) Balance Interest (1%) Penalty
Total Amount Due for the Month 10/27/2002 94,843.70 94,843.70 948.44 948.44 96,740.58 11/27/2002 94,843.70 (15,000) 79,843.70 798.44 798.44 81,440.58 12/31/2002 79,843.70 30,308.80 110,152.50 1,101.53 1,101.53 112,355.56 1/27/2003 110,152.50 110,152.50 1,101.53 1,101.53 112,355.56 2/27/2003 110,152.50 110,152.50 1,101.53 1,101.53 112,355.56 3/27/2003 110,152.50 (18,000.00) 92,152.50 921.53 921.53 93,995.56 4/27/2003 92,152.50 92,152.50 921.53 921.53 93,995.56 5/27/2003 92,152.50 (10,000.00) 82,152.50 821.53 821.53 83,795.56 6/29/2003 82,152.50 8,362.50 (7,000.00) 83,515.00 835.15 835.15 85,185.30 7/27/2003 83,515.00 83,515.00 835.15 835.15 85,185.30 8/27/2003 83,515.00 83,515.00 835.15 835.15 85,185.30 9/28/2003 83,515.00 83,515.00 835.15 835.15 85,185.30 10/28/2003 83,515.00 83,515.00 835.15 835.15 85,185.30 11/28/2003 83,515.00 83,515.00 835.15 835.15 85,185.30 12/28/2003 83,515.00 83,515.00 835.15 835.15 85,185.30 1/27/2004 83,515.00 83,515.00 835.15 835.15 85,185.30 TOTAL 83,515.00 14,397.26 14,397.26 112,309.52
WHEREFORE, the petition is PARTLY GRANTED. The CA Decision dated June 30, 2006 in CA-G.R. SP No. 92031 is hereby MODIFIED with respect to the total amount due, interest rate, and penalty charge. Accordingly, petitioner Macalinao is ordered to pay respondent BPI the following:
(1) The amount of one hundred twelve thousand three hundred nine pesos and fifty-two centavos (PhP 112,309.52) plus interest and penalty charges of 2% per month from January 5, 2004 until fully paid;
(2) PhP 10,000 as and by way of attorney's fees; andcralawlibrary
(3) Cost of suit.
1 Rollo, pp. 29-38. Penned by Associate Justice Magdangal M. De Leon and concurred in by Associate Justices Godardo A. Jacinto and Rosalinda Asuncion-Vicente.
2 Id. at 40-41.
3 Id. at 30.
4 Id. at 30-31.
5 Id. at 184.
6 Id. at 2-3.
7 Id. at 141.
8 Id. at 165.
9 Id. at 228.
10 Id. at 192-223. The documentary evidence was presented pursuant to the Order dated June 16, 2004 of the MeTC.
11 Id. at 166. Penned by Judge Perpetua Atal-PaÃ±o.
12 Id. at 142-143. Penned by Hon. Manuel D. Victorio.
13 Id. at 37.
14 Id. at 146.
15 Id. at 17.
16 Id. at 323.
17 G.R. No. 170452, August 13, 2008, 562 SCRA 146, 149-150.
18 Imperial v. Jaucian, G.R. No. 149004, April 14, 2004, 427 SCRA 517; citing Tongoy v. Court of Appeals, No. L-45645, June 28, 1983, 123 SCRA 99.
19 Imperial, id.
20 Rollo, pp. 56-81.
21 Id. at 165.
22 Atlantic Gulf and Pacific Company of Manila v. Court of Appeals, G.R. NOS. 114841-43, August 23, 1995, 247 SCRA 606.