G. R. No. 25254

[ G. R. No. 25254, November 22, 1926 ]




This action  was instituted in the Court of First Instance of Laguna by Monsefior Alfredo Verzosa, as Roman Catholic Apostolic Bishop for the  diocese of Lipa, constituted as a unipersonal religious corporation, for the purpose of compelling the defendants, Zosimo Fernandez, Salvador Unson, Tomas Cabreza, Ramon  Fabella,  Pedro  F. Caballes,  and Pedro Lavadia, to account for a fund held by them as trustees pertaining to  the Brotherhood (Archicofradia) of the Most Holy Sacrament of  the town of Pagsanjan,  and for other purposes.  The complaint as originally filed on June 22, 1925, was amended on  October 16, 1925, for the purpose of adding to the allegations of  the complaint certain facts relative to  a litigation heretofore conducted by the  Roman Catholic  Apostolic Archbishop  of Manila against the predecessors of the  same defendants.   The defendants  demurred both to the original and amended complaints.  As stated in the demurrer  to the  amended complaint,  the grounds  of exception to  the complaint  are three: First, that the plaintiff  has no right  to maintain the  action; secondly, that the facts alleged  in the  complaint  do  not constitute a cause of action; and, thirdly, that the court lacks jurisdiction to  entertain the suit.  Upon hearing the cause the trial  court sustained the demurrer and, upon election of the plaintiff not to amend further, the court dismissed the action, with costs against the  plaintiff. From this  judgment the  plaintiff appealed.

On February 20, 1807,  a number of individuals  constituting or representing  the guild  of  sangley  mestizos  of the pueblo of Pagsanjan, in the  Province of Laguna, united themselves  into a religious association or brotherhood for the purpose  of raising and supplying, from year to year, the means necessary to meet the expenses of the annual fiestas in honor of the Most Holy Sacrament and of their patroness the Virgen  Lady of Guadalupe, as well as for the further  purpose of procuring the celebration of an annual requiem mass for the repose of the souls of the deceased members. The step met the approval of their superior, the Archbishop of Manila, who was at the  time upon  a pastoral visit in Pagsanjan, and  the brotherhood was formally organized under the name  of La Archicofradia del Santisimo Sacramento.   Under the law as it then existed royal approval was essential to the legality of an association of this character; and it was not until July 23, 1819, that a  royal cedula was issued by the king of Spain, placing the brotherhood upon a lawful basis and defining the manner in which it should be organized and conducted. Meanwhile, however, under the approval of the Archbishop, the association had begun exercising its functions and had maintained a de facto  existence from the time of its first organization.

On August 10, 1807, or within less than six months from the inception of the project, the members of the guild who were cooperating in the creation of  the brotherhood held a meeting in which they raised a fund of P1,128.86, for the purpose of promoting the purposes expressed in the minutes of the meeting and of which more specific mention will presently be made.  The administration of this fund was confided  to the love, zeal and prudence of the directorate of the brotherhood (cuyo  manejo y administration hemos depositado en amor, celo y prudencia del Hermano mayor y  demds hermanos de mesa de la Archicofradia del Santisimo Sacramento).  By this arrangement "the Elder Brother and  other Brothers of the Executive Board"—an expression for which we may perhaps substitute the briefer collective  term  "Directorate"—became  trustee  for  the administration of the fund.  From this it will be seen that, instead of being the particular property of  the brotherhood, the fund was intended to be merely held and administered by the  Directorate in trust  for the purposes specified by the founders.  With  respect to the administration of the fund it was, among other things, provided that the money should  be  lent  from  year  to year  upon  interest  at the rate of, 5  per  centum per  annum, preferably to the founders or their descendants other than the actual administrators of the fund.  A number of other provisions, not necessary to be here  specified,  were made with a view to the conservation of the fund and the accumulation of the interest with the capital until the amount of the fund should reach at least P6,000. That the provision with respect to the careful lending and conservation of the money has been followed with fidelity  seems to be indicated in the fact that the amount of  the trust fund now in the hands of the defendants is  alleged to be approximately P29,921, as of the date of March, 1922.

With respect to the uses to which the income might be applied, it was  declared that, in consideration of the management of the  fund by the Directorate of the brotherhood, the founders ceded to the brotherhood, in its own particular right, so much of the income as might be necessary to supplement other  available  funds  for  the  celebration of the fiestas  to the maintenance of which the brotherhood had obligated itself, as well as the amount necessary to pay the salary  of the school teacher  of  the guild  and the further amount needed  for  the celebration of two masses  for any member of the  Directorate who might die.  Then follows a provision  to  the effect that, when the fund reaches the amount of P6,000,  there should be applied from the income an amount necessary to pay  a teacher of grammar for the instruction of the children of mestizos who desired to follow the literary  career.  Among other provisions we note the requirement that members of the Directorate shall respond personally for any part of the fund lost by their remissness or malice,  and to this end it is declared  that they shall account to the  Gobernadorcillo, for the  time being,  of the  place.

Proceeding  now to examine the provisions contained in the royal cedula of July 23,  1819,  relative to the constitution of the Board of Directors of the brotherhood (called Junta in the royal cedula), the election of its members, and the supervision over the acts of the  body, we find that the Board has, for Rector, the parish priest ex oficio, or in case of the absence or illness of  this dignitary, his senior coadjutor.   The other members of the Board are elective, being seven in number, namely, the Elder Brother, the Steward, the Treasurer, the Secretary, and three Deputies exercising the function of vicars  in divine worship.

The  provisions governing the election of  the seven  elective members of  the incoming  Board  are a little complicated, since said members  are chosen by an  electoral college of twelve, consisting of the seven elective members of the  existing Board, assisted by five electors, who must themselves be first chosen in the manner prescribed in the cedula.   The  election for members  of the  Board is to be held on December 12 of each year;  and the meetings  held for this purpose are presided over  by the  Alcalde Mayor of the province, as  representative of royal authority, or in case of his absence or illness, by the official succeeding to the command of the province, with the assistance of the Rector. The duty of canvassing the votes cast for the members of the Board is  confided to the Chairman (Alcalde Mayor) and the Rector.  In case of a tie the Rector is given the deciding vote.   It is enjoined  upon the Rector to attend all meetings  of the Board, and he is given authority to  propose matters for discussion relative to the  welfare of the Brotherhood and its funds, but in an  advisory capacity only, without  vote.   To the Rector is also confided one of the three several keys to the safe, or  safes, in which the money and valuables of the Brotherhood are kept.

In article 20 of Chapter 5  of the royal cedula attention is given to the sources from which  will be  derived  the means necessary to meet the obligations of the Brotherhood, and reference is here made to the  duty of the guild of mestizos, as founders, to supply whatever may be lacking for the pious  purposes  of the Brotherhood.  In article 21 of the same chapter it is declared that as  soon as the funds of the Brotherhood reach the amount of P5,000, the guild of mestizos shall be free from the aforesaid obligation; and it is directed  that the money shall be put out at interest under  substantially the same conditions  as had been prescribed in the resolution  of August 10, 1807,  establishing the fund already  mentioned.  In article 22 of the same chapter  the pious  uses are  defined to which  the  income shall  be applied  when  the fund  reaches the amount of P5,000,  and  an  additional  pious use  when it  reaches P10,000.  Upon this follows a provision to the effect that, in this  state of the fund, a primary teacher shall be employed for the guild of mestizos with an appropriate salary at the  discretion of the board, and, upon  a further considerable  increase of  said fund, a foundation for a teacher in Latin grammar shall be endowed with a salary determined by  the  same  Board.

Upon  comparing the original resolution of  August 10, 1807, establishing  the fund, with articles  21 and 22 of the royal cedula of July 23, 1819,  and  bearing in mind the fact that the association was wholly  devoid  of  legality until royal approval was obtained and the further fact that, in approving the cedula, the king was entirely free to fix such conditions as he then  saw fit, it is  a necessary  conclusion that the original  conditions of the trust must be considered as having been incorporated in the royal cedula; and the trust, as we now have it, is effectually defined and determined  by said cedula.   It results,  therefore,  in our opinion, that  since July 23, 1819, when  the royal  cedula took effect,  the administration of the trust fund has  pertained to the Board of Directors of the Brotherhood as one of its inherent functions; and it is no longer appropriate to conceive of the trust as a mere institution administered by the Brotherhood for the founders of the fund and their successors.  In  this  connection  we do not  overlook the provision in the closing paragraph of the royal cedula declaring that  the property and funds of the Brotherhood must not be  understood as having been "spiritualized"  at any time. But the  idea expressed in that provision  is fulfilled by the  continued application of the fund  to the lawful pious  and civil uses  for which it was intended.

We now quit our survey  of the principles governing the trust in question and turn for a moment to the allegations of the complaint.  In this connection we find it stated in the complaint that the plaintiff, Bishop of Lipa, is the administrator of the temporalities of the Catholic Church in the diocese of Lipa and that he exercises the right of supervision and inspection over all the brotherhoods established therein, of which the Brotherhood in question is one; and it is further  alleged that the individual defendants  constitute a majority of its Board of Directors and that they have employed, and are employing, its properties and funds in contravention of the spirit and purposes of the trust.

It takes but a moment's reflection upon the allegations of the complaint and especially the statement that the defendants  are employing the properties of  the Brotherhood in contravention of the spirit and purposes of the trust, to enable one to realize that the complaint is not demurable. In the exercise  of their equitable powers our courts have undoubted jurisdiction to compel a trustee properly to perform his  trust and, if necessary, to remove him from office. We note that it is prayed in the complaint that the defendants be required to render account to the plaintiff; but it is to tiie court that the defendants  should be required  to account.

In view of the allegations of the complaint, there can be no sort  of doubt as  to the  right of  the plaintiff,  as Bishop of the diocese of Lipa, to maintain this action.   As ecclesiastical superior of the parish priest  (who is ex oficio Rector of the Brotherhood), the Bishop necessarily has an interest in the enforcement of the trust, even apart from the duty imposed  upon  his  predecessor,  the  Archbishop  of Manila, in the closing paragraph  of the  royal  cedula, to enforce exact and punctual performance of the trust.

As stated in the opening paragraph of this opinion, the demurrer to the  amended complaint is of a general character, being directed to the questions of the jurisdiction of the court, the right of the plaintiff to maintain the action, and the sufficiency of the facts stated to constitute a ground of action.  None of the points  presented in the demurrer are well founded.

Several points  of  some  interest are discussed  in  the learned opinion of the trial court, and several of his conclusions have been here  subjected to criticism in the brief of the appellant; but in view  of the  fact that these matters have not been put in issue by special demurrers and of the further fact that the complaint is certainly  sufficient  in respect to the right of the plaintiff to compel the proper performance of the trust, we deem it advisable merely to reverse the judgment and overrule, as  we  hereby do over-rule, the demurrer, with the result that the defendants will be required to answer.

It  is accordingly so ordered, without special pronouncement as to costs.

Avanceña, C. J.,  Johnson, Villamor, Ostrand, Johns, Romualdez, and Villa-Real, JJ., concur. 

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