DIZON vs SUNTAY

August 22, 2014
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Republic of the Philippines
SUPREME COURT
Manila

EN BANC

 

G.R. No. L-30817           September 29, 1972

DOMINADOR DIZON, doing business under the firm name “Pawnshop of Dominador Dizon”, petitioner,

vs.

LOURDES G. SUNTAY, respondent.

Andres T. Velarde for petitioner.

Rafael G. Suntay for respondent.

 

D E C I S I O N

FERNANDO, J.:p

In essence there is nothing novel in this petition for review of a decision of the Court of Appeals affirming a lower court judgment sustaining the right of an owner of a diamond ring, respondent Lourdes G. Suntay, as against the claim of petitioner Dominador Dizon, who owns and operates a pawnshop. The diamond ring was turned over to a certain Clarita R. Sison, for sale on commission, along with other pieces of jewelry of respondent Suntay. It was then pledged to petitioner. Since what was done was violative of the terms of the agency, there was an attempt on her part to recover possession thereof from petitioner, who refused. She had to file an action then for its recovery. She was successful, as noted above, both in the lower court and thereafter in the Court of Appeals. She prevailed as she had in her favor the protection accorded by Article 559 of the Civil Code. 1 The matter was then elevated to us by petitioner. Ordinarily, our discretion would have been exercised against giving due course to such petition for review. The vigorous plea however, grounded on estoppel, by his counsel, Atty. Andres T. Velarde, persuaded us to act otherwise. After a careful perusal of the respective contentions of the parties, we fail to perceive any sufficient justification for a departure from the literal language of the applicable codal provision as uniformly interpreted by this Court in a number of decisions. The invocation of estoppel is therefore unavailing. We affirm.

The statement of the case as well as the controlling facts may be found in the Court of Appeals decision penned by Justice Perez. Thus: “Plaintiff is the owner of a three-carat diamond ring valued at P5,500.00. On June 13, 1962, the plaintiff and Clarita R. Sison entered into a transaction wherein the plaintiff’s ring was delivered to Clarita R. Sison for sale on commission. Upon receiving the ring, Clarita R. Sison executed and delivered to the plaintiff the receipt … . The plaintiff had already previously known Clarita R. Sison as the latter is a close friend of the plaintiff’s cousin and they had frequently met each other at the place of the plaintiff’s said cousin. In fact, about one year before their transaction of June 13, 1962 took place, Clarita R. Sison received a piece of jewelry from the plaintiff to be sold for P500.00, and when it was sold, Clarita R. Sison gave the price to the plaintiff. After the lapse of a considerable time without Clarita R. Sison having returned to the plaintiff the latter’s ring, the plaintiff made demands on Clarita R. Sison for the return of her ring but the latter could not comply with the demands because, without the knowledge of the plaintiff, on June 15, 1962 or three days after the ring above-mentioned was received by Clarita R. Sison from the plaintiff, said ring was pledged by Melia Sison, niece of the husband of Clarita R. Sison, evidently in connivance with the latter, with the defendant’s pawnshop for P2,600.00 … .” 2 Then came this portion of the decision under review: “Since the plaintiff insistently demanded from Clarita R. Sison the return of her ring, the latter finally delivered to the former the pawnshop ticket … which is the receipt of the pledge with the defendant’s pawnshop of the plaintiff’s ring. When the plaintiff found out that Clarita R. Sison pledged, she took steps to file a case of estafa against the latter with the fiscal’s office. Subsequently thereafter, the plaintiff, through her lawyer, wrote a letter … dated September 22, 1962, to the defendant asking for the delivery to the plaintiff of her ring pledged with defendant’s pawnshop under pawnshop receipt serial-B No. 65606, dated June 15, 1962 … . Since the defendant refused to return the ring, the plaintiff filed the present action with the Court of First Instance of Manila for the recovery of said ring, with P500.00 as attorney’s fees and costs. The plaintiff asked for the provisional remedy of replevin by the delivery of the ring to her, upon her filing the requisite bond, pending the final determination of the action. The lower court issued the writ of replevin prayed for by plaintiff and the latter was able to take possession of the ring during the pendency of the action upon her filing the requisite bond.” 3 It was then noted that the lower court rendered judgment declaring that plaintiff, now respondent Suntay, had the right to the possession of the ring in question. Petitioner Dizon, as defendant, sought to have the judgment reversed by the Court of Appeals. It did him no good. The decision of May 19, 1969, now on review, affirmed the decision of the lower court.

In the light of the facts as thus found by the Court of Appeals, well-nigh conclusive on use, with the applicable law being what it is, this petition for review cannot prosper. To repeat, the decision of the Court of Appeals stands.

1. There is a fairly recent restatement of the force and effect of the governing codal norm in De Gracia v. Court of Appeals. 4 Thus: “The controlling provision is Article 559 of the Civil Code. It reads thus: ‘The possession of movable property acquired in good faith is equivalent to a title. Nevertheless, one who has lost any movable or has been unlawfully deprived thereof may recover it from the person in possession of the same. If the possessor of a movable lost of which the owner has been unlawfully deprived, has acquired it in good faith at a public sale, the owner cannot obtain its return without reimbursing the price paid therefor.’ Respondent Angelina D. Guevara, having been unlawfully deprived of the diamond ring in question, was entitled to recover it from petitioner Consuelo S. de Garcia who was found in possession of the same. The only exception the law allows is when there is acquisition in good faith of the possessor at a public sale, in which case the owner cannot obtain its return without reimbursing the price. As authoritatively interpreted in Cruz v. Pahati, the right of the owner cannot be defeated even by proof that there was good faith in the acquisition by the possessor. There is a reiteration of this principle in Aznar v. Yapdiangco. Thus: ‘Suffice it to say in this regard that the right of the owner to recover personal property acquired in good faith by another, is based on his being dispossessed without his consent. The common law principle that were one of two innocent persons must suffer by a fraud perpetrated by another, the law imposes the loss upon the party who, by his misplaced confidence, has enabled the fraud to be committed, cannot be applied in a case which is covered by an express provision of the new Civil Code, specifically Article 559. Between a common law principle and a statutory provision, the latter must prevail in this jurisdiction.’ “ 5

2. It must have been a recognition of the compulsion exerted by the above authoritative precedents that must have caused petitioner to invoke the principle of estoppel. There is clearly a misapprehension. Such a contention is devoid of any persuasive force.

Estoppel as known to the Rules of Court 6 and prior to that to the Court of Civil Procedure, 7 has its roots in equity. Good faith is its basis. 8 It is a response to the demands of moral right and natural justice. 9 For estoppel to exist though, it is indispensable that there be a declaration, act or omission by the party who is sought to be bound. Nor is this all. It is equally a requisite that he, who would claim the benefits of such a principle, must have altered his position, having been so intentionally and deliberately led to comport himself thus, by what was declared or what was done or failed to be done. If thereafter a litigation arises, the former would not be allowed to disown such act, declaration or omission. The principle comes into full play. It may successfully be relied upon. A court is to see to it then that there is no turning back on one’s word or a repudiation of one’s act. So it has been from our earliest decisions. As Justice Mapa pointed out in the first case, a 1905 decision, Rodriguez v. Martinez10 a party should not be permitted “to go against his own acts to the prejudice of [another]. Such a holding would be contrary to the most rudimentary principles of justice and law.” 11 He is not, in the language of Justice Torres, in Irlanda v. Pitargue12 promulgated in 1912, “allowed to gainsay [his] own acts or deny rights which [he had] previously recognized.” 13 Some of the later cases are to the effect that an unqualified and unconditional acceptance of an agreement forecloses a claim for interest not therein provided. 14 Equally so the circumstance that about a month after the date of the conveyance, one of the parties informed the other of his being a minor, according to Chief Justice Paras, “is of no moment, because [the former’s] previous misrepresentation had already estopped him from disavowing the contract. 15 It is easily understandable why, under the circumstances disclosed, estoppel is a frail reed to hang on to. There was clearly the absence of an act or omission, as a result of which a position had been assumed by petitioner, who if such elements were not lacking, could not thereafter in law be prejudiced by his belief in what had been misrepresented to him. 16 As was put by Justice Labrador, “a person claimed to be estopped must have knowledge of the fact that his voluntary acts would deprive him of some rights because said voluntary acts are inconsistent with said rights.” 17 To recapitulate, there is this pronouncement not so long ago, from the pen of Justice Makalintal, who reaffirmed that estoppel “has its origin in equity and, being based on moral right and natural justice, finds applicability wherever and whenever the special circumstances of a case so demand.” 18

How then can petitioner in all seriousness assert that his appeal finds support in the doctrine of estoppel? Neither the promptings of equity nor the mandates of moral right and natural justice come to his rescue. He is engaged in a business where presumably ordinary prudence would manifest itself to ascertain whether or not an individual who is offering a jewelry by way of a pledge is entitled to do so. If no such care be taken, perhaps because of the difficulty of resisting opportunity for profit, he should be the last to complain if thereafter the right of the true owner of such jewelry should be recognized. The law for this sound reason accords the latter protection. So it has always been since Varela v. Finnick19 a 1907 decision. According to Justice Torres: “In the present case not only has the ownership and the origin of the jewels misappropriated been unquestionably proven but also that the accused, acting fraudulently and in bad faith, disposed of them and pledged them contrary to agreement, with no right of ownership, and to the prejudice of the injured party, who was thereby illegally deprived of said jewels; therefore, in accordance with the provisions of article 464, the owner has an absolute right to recover the jewels from the possession of whosoever holds them, … .” 20 There have been many other decisions to the same effect since then. At least nine may be cited. 21 Nor could any other outcome be expected, considering the civil code provisions both in the former Spanish legislation 22 and in the present Code. 23 Petitioner ought to have been on his guard before accepting the pledge in question. Evidently there was no such precaution availed of. He therefore, has only himself to blame for the fix he is now in. It would be to stretch the concept of estoppel to the breaking point if his contention were to prevail. Moreover, there should have been a realization on his part that courts are not likely to be impressed with a cry of distress emanating from one who is in a business authorized to impose a higher rate of interest precisely due to the greater risk assumed by him. A predicament of this nature then does not suffice to call for less than undeviating adherence to the literal terms of a codal provision. Moreover, while the activity he is engaged in is no doubt legal, it is not to be lost sight of that it thrives on taking advantage of the necessities precisely of that element of our population whose lives are blighted by extreme poverty. From whatever angle the question is viewed then, estoppel certainly cannot be justly invoked.

WHEREFORE, the decision of the Court of Appeals of May 19, 1969 is AFFIRMED, with costs against petitioner.

Concepcion, C.J., Zaldivar, Makasiar, Antonio and Esguerra, JJ., concur.

Makalintal and Barredo, JJ., took no part.

Castro, J., reserves his vote.

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Footnotes

1 Article 559 reads as follows: “The possession of movable property acquired in good faith is equivalent to a title. Nevertheless, one who has lost any movable or has been unlawfully deprived thereof, may recover it from the person in possession of the same. If the possessor of a movable lost or of which the owner has been unlawfully deprived, has acquired it in good faith at a public sale, the owner cannot obtain its return without reimbursing the price paid therefor.”

2 Appendix A to Petitioner’s Brief, pp. I-II.

3 Ibid, pp. II-III.

4 L-20264, January 30, 1971, 37 SCRA 129.

5 Ibid, pp. 134-135. Cruz v. Pahati is reported in 98 Phil. 788 (1956) and Aznar v. Yapdiangco, L-18536, promulgated on March 31, 1965 in 13 SCRA 486.

6 According to the Rules of Court, Rule 131, Sec. 3(a): “Whenever a party has, by his own declaration, act or omission, intentionally and deliberately led another to believe a particular thing true, and to act upon such belief, he cannot, in any litigation arising out of such declaration, act or omission, be permitted to falsify it; … .”

7 Section 331, Act 190 (1901).

8 Cf. Herman v. Radio Corporation of the Philippines, 50 Phil. 490 (1927).

9 Cf. “The doctrine of estoppel having its origin in equity, and therefore being based on moral right and natural justice, its applicability to any particular case depends, to a very large extent, upon the special circumstances of the case.” Mirasol v. Municipality of Tabaco, 43 Phil. 610, 614 (1922).

10 5 Phil. 67. Other cases follow: Municipality of Oas v. Roa, 7 Phil. 20 (1906); Trinidad v. Ricafort, 7 Phil. 449 (1907); Fable v. The City of Manila, 10 Phil. 64 (1908); United States v. Macaspac, 12 Phil. 26 (1908); Chinese Chamber of Commerce v. Pua Te Ching, 14 Phil. 222 (1909) and Amancio v. Pardo, 20 Phil. 313 (1911).

11 Ibid, p. 69.

12 Phil. 383. Cf. In re estate of Enriquez and Reyes, 29 Phil. 167 (1915); Hernaez v. Hernaez, 32 Phil. 214 (1915); Jalbuena v. Lizarraga, 33 Phil. 77 (1915); Joaquin v. Mitsumine, 34 Phil. 858 (1916); Lopez v. Abelarde, 36 Phil. 563 (1917); Henry B. Peabody & Co. v. Bromfield and Ross, 38 Phil. 841 (1918); Herman v. Radio Corp. of the Phil., 50 Phil. 490 (1927); Bachrach Motor Co. v. Kane, 61 Phil. 504 (1935) and Ortua v. Rodriguez, 63 Phil. 809 (1936).

13 Ibid, p. 392.

14 Gozun v. Republic of the Philippines, 84 Phil. 359 (1949).

15 Sia Suan v. Alcantara, 85 Phil. 669, 672 (1950).

16 Cf. Borlaza v. Ramos, 89 Phil. 464 (1951).

17 Board of Directors v. Alandy, 109 Phil. 1058, 1069 (1960).

18 Castrillo v. Court of Appeals, L-18046, March 31, 1964, 10 SCRA 549, 553-554. Cf. Calderon v. Medina, L-17634, Oct. 29, 1966, 18 SCRA 583; Bucay v. Paulino, L-25775, April 26, 1968, 23 SCRA 249; Saura Import and Export Co. v. Solidum, L-24514, July 31, 1968, 24 SCRA 574; Fieldmen’s Insurance Co. v. Vda. de Songco, L-24833, Sept. 23, 1968, 25 SCRA 70; De Castro v. Ginete, L-30058, March 28, 1969, 27 SCRA 623; Lazo v. Republic Surety, L-27365, Jan. 30, 1970, 31 SCRA 329; Kalalo v. Luz, L-27782, July 31, 1970, 34 SCRA 337; Ramos v. Central Bank, L-29352, Oct. 4, 1971, 41 SCRA 565.

19 9 Phil. 482.

20 Ibid, p. 486.

21 Cf. U.S. v. Meñez, 11 Phil. 430 (1908); Arenas v. Raymundo, 19 Phil. 46 (1911); Reyes v. Ruiz, 27 Phil. 458 (1914); United States v. Sotelo, 28 Phil. 147 (1914); People v. Alejano, 54 Phil. 987 (1930); Gacula v. Martinez, 88 Phil. 142 (1951); Cruz v. Pahati, 98 Phil. 788 (1956); Aznar v. Yapdiangco, L-18536, March 31, 1965, 13 SCRA 486.

22 Civil Code of Spain of 1889.

23 Republic Act 386 (1950).

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Justice Teehankee: Concurring Opinion

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