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PHILIPPINE SUPREME COURT DECISIONS

THIRD DIVISION

[G.R. No. 138677. February 12, 2002.]

TOLOMEO LIGUTAN and LEONIDAS DE LA LLANA, Petitioners, v. HON. COURT OF APPEALS & SECURITY BANK & TRUST COMPANY, Respondents.

D E C I S I O N


VITUG, J.:


Before the Court is a petition for review on certiorari under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court, assailing the decision and resolutions of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. CV No. 34594, entitled "Security Bank and Trust Co. v. Tolomeo Ligutan, Et. Al." chanrob1es virtua1 1aw 1ibrary

Petitioners Tolomeo Ligutan and Leonidas dela Llana obtained on 11 May 1981 a loan in the amount of P120,000.00 from respondent Security Bank and Trust Company. Petitioners executed a promissory note binding themselves, jointly and severally, to pay the sum borrowed with an interest of 15.189% per annum upon maturity and to pay a penalty of 5% every month on the outstanding principal and interest in case of default. In addition, petitioners agreed to pay 10% of the total amount due by way of attorney’s fees if the matter were indorsed to a lawyer for collection or if a suit were instituted to enforce payment. The obligation matured on 8 September 1981; the bank, however, granted an extension but only up until 29 December 1981.

Despite several demands from the bank, petitioners failed to settle the debt which, as of 20 May 1982, amounted to P114,416.10. On 30 September 1982, the bank sent a final demand letter to petitioners informing them that they had five days within which to make full payment. Since petitioners still defaulted on their obligation, the bank filed on 3 November 1982, with the Regional Trial Court of Makati, Branch 143, a complaint for recovery of the due amount.

After petitioners had filed a joint answer to the complaint, the bank presented its evidence and, on 27 March 1985, rested its case. Petitioners, instead of introducing their own evidence, had the hearing of the case reset on two consecutive occasions. In view of the absence of petitioners and their counsel on 28 August 1985, the third hearing date, the bank moved, and the trial court resolved, to consider the case submitted for decision.

Two years later, or on 23 October 1987, petitioners filed a motion for reconsideration of the order of the trial court declaring them as having waived their right to present evidence and prayed that they be allowed to prove their case. The court a quo denied the motion in an order, dated 5 September 1988, and on 20 October 1989, it rendered its decision, 1 the dispositive portion of which read:jgc:chanrobles.com.ph

"WHEREFORE, judgment is hereby rendered in favor of the plaintiff and against the defendants, ordering the latter to pay, jointly and severally, to the plaintiff, as follows:jgc:chanrobles.com.ph

"1. The sum of P114,416.00 with interest thereon at the rate of 15.189% per annum, 2% service charge and 5% per month penalty charge, commencing on 20 May 1982 until fully paid;

"2. To pay the further sum equivalent to 10% of the total amount of indebtedness for and as attorney’s fees; and

"3. To pay the costs of the suit." 2

Petitioners interposed an appeal with the Court of Appeals, questioning the rejection by the trial court of their motion to present evidence and assailing the imposition of the 2% service charge, the 5% per month penalty charge and 10% attorney’s fees. In its decision 3 of 7 March 1996, the appellate court affirmed the judgment of the trial court except on the matter of the 2% service charge which was deleted pursuant to Central Bank Circular No. 783. Not fully satisfied with the decision of the appellate court, both parties filed their respective motions for reconsideration. 4 Petitioners prayed for the reduction of the 5% stipulated penalty for being unconscionable. The bank, on the other hand, asked that the payment of interest and penalty be commenced not from the date of filing of complaint but from the time of default as so stipulated in the contract of the parties.

On 28 October 1998, the Court of Appeals resolved the two motions thusly:jgc:chanrobles.com.ph

"We find merit in plaintiff-appellee’s claim that the principal sum of P114,416.00 with interest thereon must commence not on the date, of filing of the complaint as we have previously held in our decision but on the date when the obligation became due.

"Default generally begins from the moment the creditor demands the performance of the obligation. However, demand is not necessary to render the obligor in default when the obligation or the law so provides.

"In the case at bar, defendants-appellants executed a promissory note where they undertook to pay the obligation on its maturity date ‘without necessity of demand.’ They also agreed to pay the interest in case of non-payment from the date of default.

"x       x       x

"While we maintain that defendants-appellants must be bound by the contract which they acknowledged and signed, we take cognizance of their plea for the application of the provisions of Article 1229 . . .

"Considering that defendants-appellants partially complied with their obligation under the promissory note by the reduction of the original amount of P120,000.00 to P114,416.00 and in order that they will finally settle their obligation, it is our view and we so hold that in the interest of justice and public policy, a penalty of 3% per month or 36% per annum would suffice.

"x       x       x

"WHEREFORE, the decision sought to be reconsidered is hereby MODIFIED. The defendants-appellants Tolomeo Ligutan and Leonidas dela Llana are hereby ordered to pay the plaintiff-appellee Security Bank and Trust Company the following:jgc:chanrobles.com.ph

"1. The sum of P114,416.00 with interest thereon at the rate of 15.189% per annum and 3% per month penalty charge commencing May 20, 1982 until fully paid;

"2. The sum equivalent to 10% of the total amount of the indebtedness as and for attorney’s fees." 5

On 16 November 1998, petitioners filed an omnibus motion for reconsideration and to admit newly discovered evidence, 6 alleging that while the case was pending before the trial court, petitioner Tolomeo Ligutan and his wife Bienvenida Ligutan executed a real estate mortgage on 18 January 1984 to secure the existing indebtedness of petitioners Ligutan and dela Llana with the bank. Petitioners contended that the execution of the real estate mortgage had the effect of novating the contract between them and the bank. Petitioners further averred that the mortgage was extrajudicially foreclosed on 26 August 1986, that they were not informed about it, and the bank did not credit them with the proceeds of the sale. The appellate court denied the omnibus motion for reconsideration and to admit newly discovered evidence, ratiocinating that such a second motion for reconsideration cannot be entertained under Section 2, Rule 52, of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure. Furthermore, the appellate court said, the newly-discovered evidence being invoked by petitioners had actually been known to them when the case was brought on appeal and when the first motion for reconsideration was filed. 7

Aggrieved by the decision and resolutions of the Court of Appeals, petitioners elevated their case to this Court on 9 July 1999 via a petition for review on certiorari under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court, submitting thusly —

"I. The respondent Court of Appeals seriously erred in not holding that the 15.189% interest and the penalty of three (3%) percent per month or thirty-six (36%) percent per annum imposed by private respondent bank on petitioners’ loan obligation are still manifestly exorbitant, iniquitous and unconscionable.

"II. The respondent Court of Appeals gravely erred in not reducing to a reasonable level the ten (10%) percent award of attorney’s fees which is highly and grossly excessive, unreasonable and unconscionable.

"III. The respondent Court of Appeals gravely erred in not admitting petitioners’ newly discovered evidence which could not have been timely produced during the trial of this case.

"IV. The respondent Court of Appeals seriously erred in not holding that there was a novation of the cause of action of private respondent’s complaint in the instant case due to the subsequent execution of the real estate mortgage during the pendency of this case and the subsequent foreclosure of the mortgage." 8

Respondent bank, which did not take an appeal, would, however, have it that the penalty sought to be deleted by petitioners was even insufficient to fully cover and compensate for the cost of money brought about by the radical devaluation and decrease in the purchasing power of the peso, particularly vis-a-vis the U.S. dollar, taking into account the time frame of its occurrence. The Bank would stress that only the amount of P5,584.00 had been remitted out of the entire loan of P120,000.00. 9

A penalty clause, expressly recognized by law, 10 is an accessory undertaking to assume greater liability on the part of an obligor in case of breach of an obligation. It functions to strengthen the coercive force of the obligation 11 and to provide, in effect, for what could be the liquidated damages resulting from such a breach. The obligor would then be bound to pay the stipulated indemnity without the necessity of proof on the existence and on the measure of damages caused by the breach. 12 Although a court may not at liberty ignore the freedom of the parties to agree on such terms and conditions as they see fit that contravene neither law nor morals, good customs, public order or public policy, a stipulated penalty, nevertheless, may be equitably reduced by the courts if it is iniquitous or unconscionable or if the principal obligation has been partly or irregularly complied with. 13

The question of whether a penalty is reasonable or iniquitous can be partly subjective and partly objective. Its resolution would depend on such factors as, but not necessarily confined to, the type, extent and purpose of the penalty, the nature of the obligation, the mode of breach and its consequences, the supervening realities, the standing and relationship of the parties, and the like, the application of which, by and large, is addressed to the sound discretion of the court. In Rizal Commercial Banking Corp. v. Court of Appeals, 14 just an example, the Court has tempered the penalty charges after taking into account the debtor’s pitiful situation and its offer to settle the entire obligation with the creditor bank. The stipulated penalty might likewise be reduced when a partial or irregular performance is made by the debtor. 15 The stipulated penalty might even be deleted such as when there has been substantial performance in good faith by the obligor, 16 when the penalty clause itself suffers from fatal infirmity, or when exceptional circumstances so exist as to warrant it. 17

The Court of Appeals, exercising its good judgment in the instant case, has reduced the penalty interest from 5% a month to 3% a month which petitioner still disputes. Given the circumstances, not to mention the repeated acts of breach by petitioners of their contractual obligation, the Court sees no cogent ground to modify the ruling of the appellate court..

Anent the stipulated interest of 15.189% per annum, Petitioners, for the first time, question its reasonableness and prays that the Court reduce the amount. This contention is a fresh issue that has not been raised and ventilated before the courts below. In any event, the interest stipulation, on its face, does not appear as being that excessive. The essence or rationale for the payment of interest, quite often referred to as cost of money, is not exactly the same as that of a surcharge or a penalty. A penalty stipulation is not necessarily preclusive of interest, if there is an agreement to that effect, the two being distinct concepts which may separately be demanded. 18 What may justify a court in not allowing the creditor to impose full surcharges and penalties, despite an express stipulation therefor in a valid agreement, may not equally justify the nonpayment or reduction of interest. Indeed, the interest prescribed in loan financing arrangements is a fundamental part of the banking business and the core of a bank’s existence. 19

Petitioners next assail the award of 10% of the total amount of indebtedness by way of attorney’s fees for being, grossly excessive, exorbitant and unconscionable vis-a-vis the time spent and the extent of services rendered by counsel for the bank and the nature of the case. Bearing in mind that the rate of attorney’s fees has been agreed to by the parties and intended to answer not only for litigation expenses but also for collection efforts as well, the Court, like the appellate court, deems the award of 10% attorney’s fees to be reasonable.

Neither can the appellate court be held to have erred in rejecting petitioners’ call for a new trial or to admit newly discovered evidence. As the appellate court so held in its resolution of 14 May 1999 —

"Under Section 2, Rule 52 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure, no second motion for reconsideration of a judgment or final resolution by the same party shall be entertained. Considering that the instant motion is already a second motion for reconsideration, the same must therefore be denied.

"Furthermore, it would appear from the records available to this court that the newly-discovered evidence being invoked by defendants-appellants have actually been existent when the case was brought on appeal to this court as well as when the first motion for reconsideration was filed. Hence, it is quite surprising why defendants-appellants raised the alleged newly-discovered evidence only at this stage when they could have done so in the earlier pleadings filed before this court.

"The propriety or acceptability of such a second motion for reconsideration is not contingent upon the averment of ‘new’ grounds to assail the judgment, i.e., grounds other than those theretofore presented and rejected. Otherwise, attainment of finality of a judgment might be stayed off indefinitely, depending on the party’s ingenuousness or cleverness in conceiving and formulating ‘additional flaws’ or ‘newly discovered errors’ therein, or thinking up some injury or prejudice to the rights of the movant for reconsideration." 20

At any rate, the subsequent execution of the real estate mortgage as security for the existing loan would not have resulted in the extinguishment of the original contract of loan because of novation. Petitioners acknowledge that the real estate mortgage contract does not contain any express stipulation by the parties intending it to supersede the existing loan agreement between the petitioners and the bank. 21 Respondent bank has correctly postulated that the mortgage is but an accessory contract to secure the loan in the promissory note.chanrob1es virtua1 1aw 1ibrary

Extinctive novation requires, first, a previous valid obligation; second, the agreement of all the parties to the new contract; third, the extinguishment of the obligation; and fourth, the validity of the new one. 22 In order that an obligation may be extinguished by another which substitutes the same, it is imperative that it be so declared in unequivocal terms, or that the old and the new obligation be on every point incompatible with each other. 23 An obligation to pay a sum of money is not extinctively novated by a new instrument which merely changes the terms of payment or adding compatible covenants or where the old contract is merely supplemented by the new one. 24 When not expressed, incompatibility is required so as to ensure that the parties have indeed intended such novation despite their failure to express it in categorical terms. The incompatibility, to be sure, should take place in any of the essential elements of the obligation, i.e., (1) the juridical relation or tie, such as from a mere commodatum to lease of things, or from negotiorum gestio to agency, or from a mortgage to antichresis, 25 or from a sale to one of loan; 26 (2) the object or principal conditions, such as a change of the nature of the prestation; or (3) the subjects, such as the substitution of a debtor 27 or the subrogation of the creditor. Extinctive novation does not necessarily imply that the new agreement should be complete by itself; certain terms and conditions may be carried, expressly or by implication, over to the new obligation.

WHEREFORE, the petition is DENIED.

SO ORDERED.

Melo, Panganiban, Sandoval-Gutierrez and Carpio, JJ., concur.

Endnotes:



1 Rollo, p. 114.

2 Rollo, pp. 117-118.

3 Rollo, p. 39.

4 Rollo, pp. 55, 58.

5. Rollo, pp. 48-49.

6. Rollo, p. 67.

7. Rollo, p. 52.

8. Rollo, pp. 17-18.

9. Memorandum for Respondent.

10. Art. 1226. In obligations with a penal clause, the penalty shall substitute the indemnity for damages and the payment of interests in case of noncompliance, if there is no stipulation to the contrary. Nevertheless, damages shall be paid if the obligor refuses to pay the penalty or is guilty of fraud in the fulfillment of the obligation.

The penalty may be enforced only when it is demandable in accordance with the provisions of this Code. (1152a)

11. SSS v. Moonwalk Development and Housing Corporation, 221 SCRA 119.

12. Article 1228, Civil Code; Manila Racing Club v. Manila Jockey Club, 69 Phil. 55.

13. Article 2227. Liquidated damages, whether intended as an indemnity or a penalty, shall be equitably reduced if they are iniquitous or unconscionable.

Article 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.

14. 289 SCRA 292.

15. Insular Bank of Asia and America v. Spouses Salazar (159 SCRA 111), for instance, the Court reduced the penalty charge of 2% a month to 1% a month, considering that, on a loan of P42,050.00, the debtor spouses paid a total of P68,676.75 which was applied by the creditor to satisfy the penalty and interest charges.

16. Art. 1234. If the obligation has been substantially performed in good faith, the obligor may recover as though there had been a strict and complete fulfillment, less damages suffered by the obligee.

17. Garcia v. Court of Appeals, 167 SCRA 815; See Palmares v. Court of Appeals, 288 SCRA 423; Ibarra v. Aveyro, 37 Phil. 278.

18. Insular Bank of Asia and America v. Spouses Salazar, 159 SCRA 133; GSIS v. Court of Appeals, 145 SCRA 311; Equitable Banking Corporation v. Liwanag, 32 SCRA 293.

19. Rizal Commercial Banking Corporation v. Court of Appeals, 289 SCRA 292.

20. Rollo, p. 53.

21. Memorandum for Petitioners, Rollo, p. 196.

22. Velasquez v. Court of Appeals, 309 SCRA 539; Ong v. Court of Appeals, 310 SCRA 1; Bautista v. Pilar Development Corporation, 312 SCRA 611.

23. See Article 1292, Civil Code; Pacific Mills, Inc. v. Court of Appeals, 206 SCRA 317; Quinto v. People, 305 SCRA 708; Cruz v. Court of Appeals, 293 SCRA 239.

24. Magdalena Estates, Inc. v. Rodriguez, 18 SCRA 967, as reiterated in Velasquez v. Court of Appeals, 309 SCRA 539.

25. Jagunap v. Mirasol, [CA], 48 O.G. 3911.

26. Soncuya v. Azarraga, 65 Phil. 635.

27. Azarraga v. Rodriguez, 9 Phil. 637.

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