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August 2012 Philippine Supreme Court Decisions on Civil Law

Here are select August 2012 rulings of the Supreme Court of the Philippines on civil law:
Civil Code
Accion reivindicatoria. Article 434 of the Civil Code provides that in an action to recover,
the property must be identified, and the plaintiff must rely on the strength of his title and
not on the weakness of the defendants claim.
The first requisite is the identity of the land. In an accion reinvindicatoria, the person
who claims that he has a better right to the property must first fix the identity of the land
he is claiming by describing the location, area and boundaries thereof. Anent the
second requisite, i.e., the claimants title over the disputed area, the rule is that a party
can claim a right of ownership only over the parcel of land that was the object of the
deed. It is settled that what really defines a piece of land is not the areamentioned in its
description, but the boundaries therein laid down, as enclosing the land and indicating
its limits. We have held, however, that in controversial cases where there appears to be
an overlapping of boundaries, the actual size of the property gains
importance. Leonardo Notarte et al. v. Godofredo Notarte, G.R. No. 180614, August 29,
2012.
Damages; actual and moral damages; factual and legal support required. Article 2199 of
the Civil Code is the statutory basis for the award of actual damages, which entitles a
person to an adequate compensation only for such pecuniary loss suffered by him as
he has duly proved. As such, actual damages if allowed by the RTC, being bereft of
factual support, are speculative and whimsical. Without the clear and distinct findings of
fact and law, the award amounts only to an ipse dixit on the part of the RTC, and do not
attain finality.
Absent a clear and distinct statement of the factual and legal support for the award of
moral damages, the award is thus also speculative and whimsical. Moral damages
constitute another judicial ipse dixit, the inevitable consequence of which is to render
the award of moral damages incapable of attaining finality. In addition, the grant of
moral damages in that manner contravenes the law that permit the recovery of moral
damages as the means to assuage physical suffering, mental anguish, fright, serious
anxiety, besmirched reputation, wounded feelings, moral shock, social humiliation, and
similar injury. Moral damages are not intended to enrich the plaintiff at the expense of
the defendant, but to restore the plaintiff to his status quo ante as much as
possible. University of the Philippines, et al. v. Hon. Agustin Dizon et al., G.R. No.
171182, Aug. 23, 2012.
Damages; attorneys fees. The general rule is that a successful litigant cannot recover
attorneys fees as part of the damages to be assessed against the losing party because
of the policy that no premium should be placed on the right to litigate. Prior to the
effectivity of the present Civil Code, indeed, such fees could be recovered only when
there was a stipulation to that effect. It was only under the present Civil Code that the
right to collect attorneys fees in the cases mentioned in Article 2208 of the Civil
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Code came to be recognized. Nonetheless, with attorneys fees being allowed in the
concept of actual damages, their amounts must be factually and legally justified in the
body of the decision and not stated for the first time in the decretal portion. Stating the
amounts only in the dispositive portion of the judgment is not enough; a rendition of the
factual and legal justifications for them must also be laid out in the body of the
decision. University of the Philippines, et al. v. Hon. Agustin Dizon et al., G.R. No.
171182, Aug. 23, 2012.
Partition; oral partition. Under Article 1082 of the Civil Code, every act which is intended
to put an end to indivision among co-heirs is deemed to be a partition even though it
should purport to be a sale, an exchange, or any other transaction. Partition may thus
be inferred from circumstances sufficiently strong to support the presumption.
The validity of an oral partition is already well-settled. It is not required that the partition
agreement be registered or annotated in the OCT of the land to be valid. After
exercising acts of ownership over their respective portions of the contested estate,
petitioners are estopped from denying the existence of an oral partition.
Regardless of whether a parol partition or agreement to partition is valid and
enforceable at law, equity will in proper cases, where the parol partition has actually
been consummated by the taking of possession in severalty and the exercise of
ownership by the parties of the respective portions set off to each, recognize and
enforce such parol partition and the rights of the parties thereunder. Leonardo Notarte
et al. v. Godofredo Notarte, G.R. No. 180614, August 29, 2012.
Quasi-delict; negligence of hotel. The hotel business is imbued with public interest.
Catering to the public, hotelkeepers are bound to provide not only lodging for their
guests but also security to the persons and belongings of their guests. The twin duty
constitutes the essence of the business. Applying by analogy Article 2000, Article 2001
and Article 2002 of the Civil Code (all of which concerned [sic] the hotelkeepers degree
of care and responsibility as to the personal effects of their guests), we hold that there is
much greater reason to apply the same if not greater degree of care and responsibility
when the lives and personal safety of their guests are involved. Otherwise, the
hotelkeepers would simply stand idly by as strangers have unrestricted access to all the
hotel rooms on the pretense of being visitors of the guests, without being held liable
should anything untoward befall the unwary guests. That would be absurd, something
that no good law would ever envision. Makati Shangri-La Hotel & Resort v. Ellen
Johanne Harper, et al., G.R. No. 189998, August 29, 2012.
Special Laws
Patent; issuance; homestead patent prevails over land tax declaration. When a
homesteader has complied with all the terms and conditions which entitle him to a
patent for a particular tract of public land, he acquires a vested interest therein, enough
to be regarded as the equitable owner thereof. Where the right to a patent to land has
once become vested in a purchaser of public lands, it is equivalent to a patent actually
issued. The execution and delivery of patent, after the right to a particular parcel of land
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has become complete, are the mere ministerial acts of the officer charged with that duty.
Even without a patent, a perfected homestead is a property right in the fullest sense,
unaffected by the fact that the paramount title to the land is still in the government. Such
land may be conveyed or inherited.
As evidence of ownership of land, a homestead patent prevails over a land tax
declaration. Jose Medina v. Court of Appeals & The Heirs of the Late Abundio
Castaares, G.R. No. 137582, August 29, 2012.

Prepared by: Harold B. Lacaba


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