CASE BRIEF NO. 2019-0070


“There is nothing in the Rules of Court which limits the appreciation of the court to the specified purpose for which the evidence was offered.


CASE:  VDM Trading, Inc. and Sps. Luis and Nena Domingo, represented by their Attorney-In-Fact, Atty. F. William L. Villareal vs. Leonita Carungcong and Wack Wack Twin Towers Condominium Association, Inc. [G.R. No. 206709, February 06, 2019]

PONENTE: Justice Alfredo Benjamin Caguioa

SUBJECT:
A.       CIVIL LAW:
          i.        Quasi-Delict – Elements
          ii.       Proximate Cause – Defined
          iii.      Article 2176 of the Civil Code

B.       REMEDIAL LAW:
          i.        Law on Evidence
                   –        Section 20, Rule 132 – identification and authentication of a private document
                   –        Principle of admission by silence
                   –        Hearsay Rule
                   –        Section 24, Rule 132

FACTS:   VDM and Spouses Luis and Nena Domingo filed before the Regional Trial Court (RTC) a Complaint for Damagesagainst Leonita Carungcong (respondent Carungcong), Wack Wack Twin Towers Condominium Association, Inc. (respondent Wack Wack), and Hak Yek Tan (Tan).

It was alleged that VDM is the owner of Unit 2208B-1 (the Unit) located at Wack Wack Twin Towers Condominium. Sps. Domingo are the actual occupants of the Unit.

Sometime in 1998, while Sps. Domingo were in the US, Nena’s sister, Nancy Lagman-Castillo (Lagman-Castillo), discovered that soapy water was heavily penetrating through the ceiling of the Unit. Lagman-Castillo reported the matter with the Sps. Domingo’s counsel and attorney-in-fact, Atty. William Villareal (Atty. Villareal), as well as Wack Wack’s building administrator.

On December 10, 1998, Atty. Villareal allegedly met with Wack Wack’s Acting Property Manager, Arlene Cruz (Cruz), who supposedly revealed that she previously conducted an inspection on the Unit and found that the strong leak apparently came from Unit 2308B-1, which is located directly above the Unit. Unit 2308B-1 is owned by Carungcong, but was being leased by Tan at that time. Cruz allegedly explained that Unit 2308B-1’s balcony, which was being utilized as a laundry area, had unauthorized plumbing works installed therein, which were in violation of Wack Wack’s rules and regulations.

Atty. Villareal conducted his own inspection of the Unit in the presence of Lagman-Castillo and Cruz, and noted the damages.

Subsequently, repair works on the Unit were referred to M. Laher Construction (M. Laher) for a quotation. Upon its own assessment, M. Laher stated that the estimated cost in repairing the damage in the Unit amounted to P490,635.00. Afterwards, several demand letterswere sent by Atty. Villareal to Wack Wack, Carungcong, Tan, for the payment of the amount quoted by M. Laher, but to no avail.

Hence, Sps. Domingo were constrained to file their Complaint. As stated in the Complaint, the cause of action against Tan is based on the supposed “unauthorized installation of plumbing in the balcony of Unit 2308-B1 and x x x unauthorized conversion of said balcony into a laundry/wash area” undertaken by Tan. As regards, Carungcong, she was being held solidarity liable with Tan as the registered owner of Unit 2308-B1, allegedly failing in her responsibility of ensuring that Tan is complying with all of the rules and regulations of Wack Wack. With respect to Wack Wack, the cause of action was based on the latter’s alleged act of being “utterly negligent in failing to enforce and implement the Association’s Rules and Regulations prohibiting illegal or unauthorized constructions, additions, or alteration by tenants to their units.”

The Sps. Domingo prayed for the award, among others, of P490,635.00 as actual damages.

The RTC rendered its decision ruling in favor of the petitioners VDM and Sps. Domingo.

Respondents Carungcong and Wack Wack appealed the RTC’s Decision before the CA.

The CA granted the appeal of respondents Carungcong and Wack Wack, reversing the RTC’s Decision.

In sum, the CA found that the records are bereft of any evidence showing that the damage to the petitioners’ Unit was caused by the plumbing works done on the balcony of Unit 2308B-1. Further, the CA took cognizance of an already settled case previously initiated by the petitioners before the Housing and Land Use Regulatory Board (HLURB) concerning the Unit. The said case decided by the HLURB found that water leakage in the Unit was caused by the defective and substandard construction of the Unit by Golden Dragon, the developer of the Condominium, and not the plumbing works on the balcony of Unit 2308B-1.

The petitioners filed their Motion for Reconsideration of the CA decision, which was denied by the CA.

Hence, they appealed via Petition for Review on Certiorari under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court.


ISSUES:
A.       What is quasi-delict?
          a.       What are its elements?

B.       Whether the letter-quotation from M. Laher, a private document, proves the full extent of the damage caused to the Unit.
          a.       What are the ways in proving the identity and authenticity of a private document?

C.       Is the handwritten report of Lagman-Castillo, which purportedly show the extent and location of the damage caused to the Unit admissible in evidence?
          a.       Is the principle of admission by silence applies in this case? 

D.      Whether Atty. Villareal can testify as to the truth of Cruz’s observations and findings who supposedly intimated that the strong leak apparently came from Unit 2308B-1, which is located directly above the Unit.

E.       Whether the demand letters sent by petitioners to the respondents may be accepted as proof of damage cause to the former’s Unit.

F.       Whether the fault or negligence on the part of respondents Carungcong and Wack Wack was proven.

G.      Whether proximate cause between the supposed damage caused and the plumbing works undertaken was established.
          a. Define proximate cause.
          b. Whether courts’ appreciation of evidence should be limited to the specified purpose for which the evidence was offered.


RULING:
A.       Petitioners’ cause of action is anchored on quasi-delict.

According to Article 2176 of the Civil Code, whoever by act or omission causes damage to another, there being fault or negligence, is obliged to pay for the damage done. Such fault or negligence, if there is no pre-existing contractual relation between the parties, is called a quasi-delict.

A quasi-delict has the following elements: a) the damage suffered by the plaintiff; b) the act or omission of the defendant supposedly constituting fault or negligence; and c) the causal connection between the act and the damage sustained by the plaintiff, or proximate cause.


B.      
The full extent of the damage caused to the petitioners’ Unit was not sufficiently proven.

Aside from the purely self-serving testimony of Atty. Villareal, the sole witness of thepetitioners, there was no sufficient evidence presented to show the extent of the damage caused to the Unit.

The petitioners maintain that the letter-quotation from M. Laher, a private document, proves the full extent of the damage caused to the Unit.

Such contention is erroneous.

As a prerequisite to its admission in evidence, the identity and authenticity of a private document must be properly laid and reasonably established. According to Section 20, Rule 132 of the Rules of Court, the identification and authentication of a private document may only be proven by either: (1) a person who saw the execution of the document, or (2) a person who has knowledge and can testify as to the genuineness of the signature or handwriting of the maker.

In the instant case, with Atty. Villareal having not seen the execution of the document, and having no personal knowledge whatsoever as regards the execution of the document, the letter-quotation from M. Laher was not deemed to have been properly identified and authenticated, thus making it inadmissible in evidence. Petitionersshould have instead presented a witness from M. Laher who actually executed the letter-quotation, or any other witness who saw the actual execution of the document or can testify as to the signatures and handwritings found on the document. Therefore, they cannot rely on M. Laher’s letter-quotation to prove their claims for damages.


C.       Petitioners also heavily rely on the handwritten report of Lagman-Castillo, which purportedly show the extent and location of the damage caused to the Unit.

Atty. Villareal’s testimony on the observations contained in the handwritten report of Lagman-Castillo is inadmissible. Atty. Villareal is not competent to testify on the veracity of the observations contained in the said handwritten report because he may only testify to those facts which he has personal knowledge, and derived from his own perception. Simply stated, as to the contents of the handwritten report of Lagman-Castillo, Atty. Villareal’s testimony is hearsay. The petitioners should have instead presented Lagman-Castillo herself to testify on her own observations, which was not done.

Petitioners argue that the principle of admission by silence applies vis-a-vis Lagman-Castillo’s handwritten report because the respondents supposedly failed to issue a response to the said report. The argument is not convincing.

Jurisprudence holds that the rule on admission by silence applies to adverse statements in writing if the party was carrying on a mutual correspondence with the declarant. However, if there was no such mutual correspondence, the rule is relaxed on the theory that while the party would have immediately reacted by a denial if the statements were orally made in his presence, such prompt response can generally not be expected if the party still has to resort to a written reply.

In the case at hand, it is not disputed that Lagman-Castillo’s handwritten report was not addressed to the respondents. Instead, the report was addressed to Atty. Villareal. Hence, the rule on admission on silence is negated.


D.     
Petitioners likewise rely on the supposed statements made by Cruz, the Acting Property Manager of respondent Wack Wack, who supposedly intimated that the strong leak apparently came from Unit 2308B-1, which is located directly above the Unit. However, it must be emphasized that Cruz herself was not presented as a witness. Atty. Villareal was not competent to testify as to the truth of Cruz’s supposed observations and findings because, to reiterate, Atty. Villareal may only testify to those facts which he has personal knowledge, and derived from his own perception. Hearsay evidence such as this, whether objected to or not, cannot be given credence for it has no probative value.


E.      
Lastly, the petitioners cite the various demand letters as evidence of the supposed damage caused to their Unit. It goes without saying that these letters are self-serving documents that deserve scant consideration in the determination of damages. As previously held by the Court, one cannot make evidence for himself by writing a letter containing the statements that he wishes to prove. He does not make the letter evidence by sending it to the party against whom he wishes to prove the facts stated therein.


F.      
Fault or negligence on the part of respondents Carungcong and Wack Wack was not proven.

In a cause of action based on quasi-delict, the negligence or fault should be clearly established as it is the basis of the action.

While it is undisputed that plumbing works were done on the balcony of the unit owned by respondent Carungcong, there is no evidence presented that suggests that such plumbing works were illegally or negligently made. The petitioners could not even point out what specific rule or regulation was supposedly violated by respondent Carungcong or her lessee, Tan, in undertaking the plumbing works. There was no proof offered showing that such plumbing works were even prohibited, disallowed, or undertaken in a negligent manner.

The closest piece of evidence presented that remotely suggests some negligence or wrongdoing on the part of respondent Carungcong or her lessee, Tan, was the supposed statements made by respondent Wack Wack’s Acting Property Manager, Cruz. However, as already explained, as Atty. Villareal’s testimony on Cruz’s statements is pure hearsay, the veracity of Cruz’s findings was not sufficiently proven.

Also, the petitioners do not even dispute that under the Amended Master Deed, respondent Wack Wack holds title over and exercises maintenance and supervision only with respect to the common areas. It is also not disputed that the maintenance and repair of the condominium units shall be made solely on the account of the unit owners, with each unit owner being “responsible for all the damages to any other Units and/or to any portion of the Projects resulting from his failure to effect the required maintenance and repairs of his unit.”


G.     
Proximate cause between the supposed damage caused and the plumbing works undertaken was not established.

To constitute quasi-delict, the alleged fault or negligence committed by the defendant must be the proximate cause of the damage or injury suffered by the plaintiff.

Proximate cause is that cause which, in natural and continuous sequence, unbroken by any efficient intervening cause, produces the injury and without which the result would not have occurred.

Stated in simple terms, it must be proven that the supposed fault or negligence committed by the respondents, i.e., the undertaking of plumbing works on Unit 2308B-1, was the cause of the damage to the Unit.

Such was not proven by the petitioners.

First, the claim that a supposed leak in the plumbing works located in the balcony of Unit 2308B-1 caused the leakage of soapy water in various parts of the Unit, including the various bedrooms inside the Unit, is highly doubtful and illogical. The subject plumbing works are isolated in the balcony area of Unit 2308B-1. The petitioners do not dispute that the said area is separated from the other areas of the unit and sealed off by a wall and beam. Hence, if a leakage in the plumbing works on the balcony of Unit 2308B-1 indeed occurred, it is highly improbable that such leak would spread to a wide area of the Unit.

Second, aside from the unsubstantiated self-serving testimony of Atty. Villareal, there was no evidence presented to show that the supposed widespread leak of soapy water in the various parts of the Unit was caused by plumbing works on the balcony of Unit 2308B-1. No witness or document establishing a causal link between the plumbing works and the damage to the Unit was offered. The petitioners could have utilized assessors or technical experts on building and plumbing works to personally examine and assess the damage caused to the Unit to provide some substantiation to the claim of proximate cause. However, no such witness was presented. The petitioners relied solely on the testimony of their own counsel, Atty. Villareal. Proximate cause cannot be established by the mere say-so of a self-serving witness.

Lastly, the fact that the plumbing works done in Unit 2308B-1 was not the cause of the damage suffered by the petitioners’ Unit is further supported by the factual finding of the CA that a case before the HLURB was previously filed by the petitioners against Golden Dragon. In this complaint, which was offered in evidence by the petitioners themselves, the latter alleged that in 1996, way before the installation of the subject plumbing works in Unit 2308B-1, they had already discovered water leaks in the Unit which damaged the interiors thereof. It was the petitioners’ allegation that the water leakage in the Unit was made possible due to Golden Dragon’s delivery of a “defective and/or substandard unit.” In fact, the CA noted that the HLURB issued a Decision dated July 9, 2009 holding Golden Dragon liable for the water leakage suffered by the petitioners. It is of no coincidence that the award for actual damages granted to the petitioners is similar to the award for actual damages sought by the petitioners in the instant case.


H.     
The petitioners argued that the CA should have limited its appreciation to the purpose for which the evidence is offered. They maintain that the said HLURB complaint was offered for a different purpose, i.e., to prove that Golden Dragon previously refused to execute a Deed of Absolute Sale covering the Unit. Such argument fails to convince. As correctly held by the CA, as the said HLURB complaint was formally offered by the petitioners, thus forming part of the records of the case, “this Court shall not close its eyes” to the contents of the said document. Section 34, Rule 132 merely states that the court shall consider no evidence which has not been formally offered, and that the purpose for which the evidence is offered must be specified. There is nothing in the Rules of Court which limits the appreciation of the court to the specified purpose for which the evidence was offered.

All in all, with the petitioners failing to prove the existence of the elements of a quasi-delict in the instant case, the CA committed no reversible error that warrants the Court’s exercise of its discretionary appellate power.

Related Case Briefs:
a.       The Consolidated Bank & Trust Corp. v. Court of Appeals, 457 Phil. 688 (2003)
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THINGS DECIDED:

A.       A quasi-delict has the following elements: a) the damage suffered by the plaintiff; b) the act or omission of the defendant supposedly constituting fault or negligence; and c) the causal connection between the act and the damage sustained by the plaintiff, or proximate cause.

B.       The identification and authentication of a private document may only be proven by either: (1) a person who saw the execution of the document, or (2) a person who has knowledge and can testify as to the genuineness of the signature or handwriting of the maker.

C.       Jurisprudence holds that the rule on admission by silence applies to adverse statements in writing if the party was carrying on a mutual correspondence with the declarant. However, if there was no such mutual correspondence, the rule is relaxed on the theory that while the party would have immediately reacted by a denial if the statements were orally made in his presence, such prompt response can generally not be expected if the party still has to resort to a written reply.

D.      Hearsay evidence such as this, whether objected to or not, cannot be given credence for it has no probative value.

E.       One cannot make evidence for himself by writing a letter containing the statements that he wishes to prove. He does not make the letter evidence by sending it to the party against whom he wishes to prove the facts stated therein.

F.       In a cause of action based on quasi-delict, the negligence or fault should be clearly established as it is the basis of the action.

G.       To constitute quasi-delict, the alleged fault or negligence committed by the defendant must be the proximate cause of the damage or injury suffered by the plaintiff. Proximate cause is that cause which, in natural and continuous sequence, unbroken by any efficient intervening cause, produces the injury and without which the result would not have occurred.

H.      Section 34, Rule 132 merely states that the court shall consider no evidence which has not been formally offered, and that the purpose for which the evidence is offered must be specified. There is nothing in the Rules of Court which limits the appreciation of the court to the specified purpose for which the evidence was offered.

‘Stand by things decided’ ~ Stare Decisis


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