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503 Phil. 121


[ G.R. Nos. 145156-57, July 29, 2005 ]




In this appeal by way of a petition for review on certiorari under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court, petitioner Solid Homes, Inc. urges us to nullify and set aside the following issuances of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. SP No. 53443 and 55324, to wit:
  1. Decision dated May 23, 2000,[1] setting aside an earlier decision of the Office of the President in a complaint for breach of obligation filed by the herein respondents against the petitioner in connection with the sale of a subdivision lot; and

  2. Resolution dated September 12, 2000,[2] denying petitioner's motion for reconsideration.
The material facts, undisputed by the parties, may be briefly stated, as follows:

On April 7, 1980, petitioner Solid Homes, Inc., sold to the spouses Joe Uy and Myrna Uy a subdivision lot with an area of 1,069 square meters, more particularly identified as Lot 18, Block 2, located at petitioner's Loyola Grand Villas Subdivision, Quezon City. Thereafter, the lot was registered in the name of the Uys under Transfer Certificate of Title (TCT) No. 280963/T-1409 of the Register of Deeds of Quezon City.

Sometime in February, 1985, the spouses Uy sold the same lot to herein respondents, the spouses Ancheta K. Tan and Corazon de Jesus-Tan, by reason of which the former title covering the lot was cancelled and replaced by TCT No. RT-14465 (327754) in respondents' name.

From then on, respondents visited their property a number of times, only to find out the sad state of development thereat. There was no infrastructure and utility systems for water, sewerage, electricity and telephone, as announced in the approved plans and advertisements of the subdivision. Worse, squatters occupy their lot and its surrounding areas. In short, there has been no development at all.

Accordingly, in a letter dated December 18, 1995, respondents demanded on petitioner to provide the needed utility systems and clear the area of squatters and other obstructions by the end of January, 1996 to enable them to start the construction of their house thereon and to allow other lot owners in the area a full access to and peaceful possession of their respective lots, conformably with P.D. No. 957 which requires an owner or developer of a subdivision project to develop the same within one year from the issuance of its license.

Having received no reply from petitioner, respondents filed with the Field Office of the Housing and Land Use Regulatory Board (HLURB), NCR a complaint for specific performance and damages therein praying, inter alia, that petitioner be ordered to provide the needed facilities in the premises and rid the same of squatters; or, in the alternative, for petitioner to replace respondents' property with another lot in the same subdivision where there are facilities and sans squatters.

After due proceedings, the Housing and Land Use Arbiter, in a decision dated September 17, 1996,[3] rendered judgment for the respondents by directing petitioner:
  1. to perform its obligation to provide subdivision facilities in the subject premises and to rid the premises of squatters. In the alternative, at the option of complainants xxx to replace subject lot with a lot of similar size and with available facilities, located in the subject subdivision.

  2. to pay complainants P20,000.00 as and by way of attorney's fees.
In the same decision, the Arbiter dismissed the complaint against petitioner's co-defendant, Purita Soliven.

Dissatisfied, petitioner went on appeal to the HLURB Board of Commissioners, which, in a decision dated April 16, 1997,[4] affirmed that of the Arbiter.

From there, petitioner elevated the case to the Office of the President (O.P.).

In a decision[5] dated June 3, 1999, the O.P., thru then Executive Secretary Ronaldo B. Zamora, affirmed with modification the appealed decision of the HLURB Board of Commissioners, thus:
WHEREFORE, premises considered, the first paragraph of the decision appealed from is hereby AFFIRMED with the modification that in case Solid Homes, Inc. fails to replace subject lot with a lot of similar size and with available facilities located in the subdivision, because it had already sold or transferred all of its properties in the subdivision, it shall pay spouses Ancheta Tan and Corazon Tan the total amount received from them as purchase price, with legal rate of interest from February 1985, until fully paid. Save for this modification, the decision appealed from is hereby AFFIRMED.

SO ORDERED (Italics, ours).
On June 25, 1999, respondents filed a motion for partial reconsideration of the aforementioned decision, praying for the deletion of that portion thereof giving petitioner the option of merely paying them the purchase price with interest in the event petitioner "fails to replace subject lot with a lot of similar size and with available facilities located in the subdivision, because it had already sold or transferred all of its properties in the subdivision." Respondents argued that it would be more in accord with equity and fair play if they will be paid the fair market value of the lot in question and not merely its purchase price, should there be no available lot with facilities in the area.

However, in a resolution dated September 22, 1999,[6] O.P. denied respondents' motion.

Both parties then went to the Court of Appeals via their respective petitions for review, thereat separately docketed as CA-G.R. SP No. 53443 (for petitioners) and CA-G.R. SP No. 55324 (for respondent). Pursuant to Section 1, Rule 31 of the Rules of the Court, the appellate court ordered the consolidation of the two (2) petitions.

As stated at the threshold hereof, the Court of Appeals, in its consolidated decision dated May 23, 2000,[7] set aside that of the O.P. and affirmed the earlier decision dated April 16, 1997 of the HLURB Board of Commissioners, but subject to the modification that petitioner shall pay respondents the current market value of the lot, not merely its purchase price, should there be no more available lots with facilities in petitioner's Loyola Grand Villas Subdivision. We quote the decretal portion of the appellate court's decision:
WHEREFORE, Premises Considered, the assailed Decision dated 03 June 1999 is hereby SET ASIDE and the Decision of the HLURB dated 16 April 1997 is hereby AFFIRMED subject to the modification that if there is no more available lot in Loyola Grand Villas to replace subject lot, Solid Homes, Inc. should pay the spouses Tan the current market value of their lot.

This time, petitioner moved for reconsideration but its motion was denied by the same court in its resolution of September 12, 2000.[8]

Hence, petitioner's present recourse, contending that the Court of Appeals erred -



The errors assigned actually simmered down to only two (2) issues, namely: (1) whether or not respondents' right to bring the instant case against petitioner has already prescribed; and (2) in the event respondents opt to rescind the contract, should petitioner pay them merely the price they paid for the lot plus interest or the current market value thereof.

In the matter of prescription, it is petitioner's posture that respondents' right to bring the action against it has already prescribed, arguing that the 10-year prescriptive period therefor should be reckoned from April 7, 1980 when petitioner originally sold the lot in question to the spouses Joe Uy and Myrna Uy, or, at the latest from February, 1985, when respondents acquired the same lot from the Uy spouses. Hence, and as respondents' action was filed with the HLURB Field Office only on April 1, 1996 or after more than ten (10) years, it follows that the same was filed out of time and, therefore, ought to have been dismissed.

We disagree.

There can be no debate at all on the legal postulate that the prescriptive period for bringing action for specific performance, as here, prescribes in ten (10) years. This is so provided in Article 1144 of the Civil Code. What we cannot agree on with the petitioner, and about which petitioner is in serious error, is its submission that the   10-year prescriptive period should commence either on April 7, 1980, when petitioner originally sold the lot to spouses Uy; or in February, 1985, when the respondents thereafter bought the same lot from the Uy couple. Obviously, petitioner misread Article 1144 which specifically provides that the 10-year period therein referred to commences to run only from the time the right of action accrues. We quote in full the codal provision relied upon by petitioner:
Article 1144. The following actions must be brought within ten years from the time the right of action accrues:

(1) Upon a written contract;

(2) Upon an obligation created by law;

(3) Upon a judgment (Emphasis supplied).
If not on a written contract, petitioner's obligation to introduce improvements on the area in question arises from law, more specifically P.D. 957, as amended by P.D. 1216, Section 31 of which pertinently reads:
SECTION 31. Roads, Alleys, Sidewalks and Open Spaces.—The owner as developer of a subdivision shall provide adequate roads, alleys and sidewalks. For subdivision projects one (1) hectare or more, the owner or developer shall reserve thirty percent (30%) of the gross area for open space.
The next inquiry, then, is when the respondents' cause of action accrued. Our earlier ruling in Banco Filipino Savings and Mortgage Bank vs. CA[9] provides the answer:
Thus, the period of prescription of any action is reckoned only from the date the cause of action accrued. And a cause of action arises when that which should have been done is not done, or that which should not have been done is done. The period should not be made to retroact to the date of execution of the contract on January 15, 1975 as claimed by the petitioner for at that time, there would be no way for the respondents to know of the violation of their rights. The Court of Appeals therefore correctly found that respondents' cause of action accrued on October 30, 1978, the date they received the statement of account showing the increased rate of interest, for it was only from that moment that they discovered the petitioner's unilateral increase thereof. We quote with approval the pertinent portions of the Court of Appeals decision as follows:
It is the legal possibility of bringing the action that determines the starting point for the computation of the period of prescription.[10] In fine, the ten-year prescriptive period is to be reckoned from the accrual of the Appellee's right of action, not necessarily on the very date of the execution of the contracts subject of the action[11] (Emphasis supplied)
In law, a cause of action exists when the following requisites concur, to wit: (1) a right in favor of the plaintiff by whatever means and under whatever law it arises or is created; (2) an obligation on the part on the defendant to respect such right; and (3) an act or omission on the part of such defendant violative of the right of the plaintiff.[12]

Time and again, we have emphasized that it is only upon the happening of the last element when it can be said that a cause of action has arisen. In short, it is from the time an act is performed or an omission incurred which is violative of the plaintiff's right, that signals the accrual of a cause of action. And it is from that time that the 10-year prescriptive period commences to run.

Here, it was only on December 18, 1995 when respondents made a written demand upon petitioner to construct subdivision roads, put up utility facilities and rid the premises of squatters, obligations which are unquestionably in the nature of an obligation to do. And under Article 1169[13] of the Code, a party who is under obligation to do something incurs delay only from the time that the obligee demands, either judicially or extrajudicially, for the fulfillment of the obligation.

Parenthetically, and as we have said in Social Security System vs. Moonwalk Development and Housing Corporation, et al.,[14] an obligor violates his obligation to the obligee from the time the latter made a demand for performance, which demand also marks the point of time when the former incurs mora or delay:
The debtor, therefore, violates the obligation in point of time if there is mora or delay. Now, there is no mora or delay unless there is a demand. It is noteworthy that in the present case during all the period when the principal obligation was still subsisting, although there were late amortizations there was no demand made by the creditor, plaintiff-appellant for the payment of the penalty. Therefore up to the time of the letter of plaintiff-appellant there was no demand for the payment of the penalty, hence the debtor was not in mora in the payment of the penalty.
Hence, absent any demand from the obligee, the obligor does not incur delay. And so long as the obligor does not incur in delay, he cannot be said to be guilty of some omission violative of the obligee's rights. Consequently, as long as the obligor is not guilty of some omission violative of the obligee's rights, the latter has no cause of action against the former. As a result, the prescriptive period within which the obligee may bring an action against the obligor does not commence to run until a demand is made.

With the reality that in this case, respondents made their written demand upon petitioner to perform what is incumbent upon it only on December 18, 1995, it was only from that date when the  10-year prescriptive period under Article 1144 commenced to run. And since respondents' complaint for specific performance was filed with the Field Office of the HLURB only on April 1, 1996, or less than four (4) months after the date of their demand, petitioner's reliance on prescription of action is simply without any leg to stand on.

This brings us to the second question.

Petitioner submits as erroneous the appellate court's ruling that "[e]quity and justice dictate that the injured party should be paid the market value of the lot, otherwise, respondents Solid Homes, Inc. & Purita Soliven would enrich themselves at the expense of herein lot owners when they sell the same lot at the present market value". To petitioner, equity may be availed of only in the absence of and never against statutory law or judicial rules of procedure. It then invokes Article 1385 of the New Civil Code, which provides:
Article 1385. Rescission creates the obligation to return the things which were the object of the contract, together with their fruits, and the price with its interests; consequently, it can be carried out only when he who demands rescission can return whatever he may be obliged to restore.
On surface, petitioner's argument appears infallible. However, a closer look at our laws and the reason and spirit behind their enactment, as well as established jurisprudence, negates petitioner's thesis.

It is true that this Court have, in the past, applied the provision of Article 1385 to cases of rescission due to breach of obligation under Article 1191.[15] But this notwithstanding, the Court finds no reason to alter the ruling of the Court of Appeals.

In many instances, this Court has refused to apply the literal import of a particular provision of law when to do so would lead to unjust, unfair and absurd results. After all, it is the function of courts to see to it that justice is dispensed, fairness is observed and absurdity prevented. So it is that in Commissioner of Internal Revenue vs. Solidbank Corporation,[16] we made the following pronouncement:
A literal application of any part of a statute is to be rejected if it will operate unjustly, lead to absurd results, or contradict the evident meaning of the statute taken as a whole. Unlike the CA, we find that the literal application of the aforesaid sections of the Tax Code and its implementing regulations does not operate unjustly or contradict the evident meaning of the statute taken as a whole. Neither does it lead to absurd results. Indeed, our courts are not to give words meanings that would lead to absurd or unreasonable consequences. We have repeatedly held thus:
xxx [Statutes should receive a sensible construction, such as will give effect to the legislative intention and so as to avoid an unjust or an absurd conclusion. (Emphasis supplied.)
Were we to follow the letter of Article 1385, we will in effect be paving the way to an absurd situation whereby subdivision developers who have reneged on their contractual and legal obligation to provide utility systems and facilities for the use of subdivision lot owners may themselves profit from their very own wrongs and shortcomings. In the curt language of the Court of Appeals, to which we are in full accord:
Indeed, there would be unjust enrichment if respondents Solid Homes, Inc. & Purita Soliven are made to pay only the purchase price plus interest. It is definite that the value of the subject property already escalated after almost two decades from the time the petitioner paid for it. Equity and justice dictate that the injured party should be paid the market value of the lot, otherwise, respondents Solid Homes, Inc. & Purita Soliven would enrich themselves at the expense of herein lot owners when they sell the same lot at the present market value. Surely, such a situation should not be countenanced for to do so would be contrary to reason and therefore, unconscionable. Over time, courts have recognized with almost pedantic adherence that what is inconvenient or contrary to reason is not allowed in law.
The foregoing scenario becomes even more intolerable when it is considered that P.D. 959 was issued precisely as a measure against subdivision owners, developers, operators and/or sellers who reneged on their obligation to provide the needed utility systems and facilities in their subdivisions. As expressed in one of the decree's whereas clauses:
WHEREAS, numerous reports reveal that many real estate subdivision owners, developers, operators and/or sellers have reneged on their representations and obligations to provide and maintain properly subdivision roads, drainage, sewerage, water systems, lighting systems, and other similar basic requirements, thus endangering the health and safety of home and lot buyers.
WHEREFORE, the instant petition is DENIED and the assailed decision and resolution of the Court of Appeals AFFIRMED.

Costs against petitioner.


Panganiban, (Chairman), Sandoval-Gutierrez, and Carpio-Morales, JJ., concur.
Corona, J., on official leave.

[1] Penned by then (now retired) Associate Justice Ramon A. Barcelona with Associate Justices Marina L. Buzon and Edgardo P. Cruz, concurring.

[2] Rollo, pp. 121-122.

[3] Rollo, pp. 38-44.

[4] Rollo, pp. 45-52.

[5] Rollo, pp. 53-58.

[6] Rollo, pp. 59-61.

[7] Rollo, pp. 88-102.

[8] Supra.

[9] 388 Phils. 27, 39-40 [2000].

[10] Citing Constancia C. Telentino vs. Court of Appeals, et al., 162 SCRA 66.

[11] Citing Naga Telephone Co. Inc. vs. Court of Appeals, et al., 230 SCRA 351.

[12] Lee, et al. vs. CA, 419 Phils. 392, 419 [2001].

[13] Article 1169. Those obliged to deliver or to do something incur in delay from the time the obligee judicially or extrajudicially demands from them the fulfillment of their obligation.

[14] 221 SCRA 119, 124 [1993].

[15] E.g., Palay, Inc. vs. Clave, 124 SCRA 638 [1983] and Velarde vs. Court of Appeals, 361 SCRA 56 [2001].

[16] 416 SCRA 436, 460 [2003].

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