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Can’t love thy neighbor

Rudy and Rico are adjacent neighbors. When Rudy decided to renovate his one-story residence by constructing a second floor, he under the guise of merely building an extension to his residence, approached Rico for permission to bore a hole through a perimeter wall shared by both their respective properties, to which Rico verbally consented on condition that Rudy would clean the area affected by the work. Rudy’s secret plan backfired.

Their conflict ended up when  Rico filed a complaint for damages before a court of law.

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In his complaint, Rico alleged that, instead of boring just one hole as agreed upon, Rudy demolished the whole length of the wall from top to bottom into five parts for the purpose of constructing a second floor with terrace; and that debris and dust piled up on Rico’s property ruining his garden and forcing him to, among other things, shut some of the windows of his house. Rico thus prayed for the award of moral and exemplary damages.

Rudy, in denying Rico’s allegations, claimed in his answer that he was the sole and exclusive owner of the wall referred to as a perimeter wall, the same having been built within the confines of his property and being part and parcel of the house and lot package he purchased from the developer; that the issue of its ownership has never been raised by Rico or his predecessor; and that securing the consent of Rico and his neighbors was a mere formality in compliance with the requirements of the building official to facilitate the issuance of a building permit, hence, it should not be taken to mean that he (Rudy) acknowledges Rico to be a co-owner of the wall. He added that he eventually secured the requisite building permit and had duly paid the administrative fine.

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Further, Rudy, denying that a demolition of the whole length of the wall took place, claimed that he and his contractor’s laborers had been diligently cleaning Rico’s area after every day’s work until Rico arrogantly demanded the dismantling of the scaffoldings, and barred the workforce from, and threatening to shoot anyone entering the premises; and that the complaint was instituted by Rico as leverage to force him to withdraw the criminal case for slander and light threats which he had earlier filed against Rico for uttering threats and obscenities against him in connection with the construction work.

Q: What are moral damages?

A: Moral damages, however, recovery is more an exception rather than the rule. Moral damages are not meant to be punitive but are designed to compensate and alleviate the physical suffering, mental anguish, fright, serious anxiety, besmirched reputation, wounded feelings, moral shock, social humiliation and similar harm unjustly caused to a person. To be entitled to such an award, the claimant must satisfactorily prove that he has suffered damages and that the injury causing it has sprung from any of the cases listed in Articles 2219 and 2220 of the Civil Code. Moreover, the damages must be shown to be the proximate result of a wrongful act or omission. The claimant must thus establish the factual basis of the damages and its causal tie with the acts of the defendant.

Q: What must be shown to be entitled to an award of moral damages?

A: Entitlement would call for the presentation of 1) evidence of besmirched reputation or physical, mental or psychological suffering sustained by the claimant; 2) a culpable act or omission factually established; 3) proof that the wrongful act or omission of the defendant is the proximate cause of the damages sustained by the claimant; and 4) the proof that the act is predicated on any of the instances expressed or envisioned by Article 2219 and Article 2220 of the Civil Code.

Q: Is Rico entitled to an award of damages?

A: No. While there is no  doubt that the incidents which gave rise to this dispute have brought anxiety and anguish to Rico,  there is no evidence to show that the damage inflicted upon Rico’s property was malicious or willful, an element crucial to merit an award of moral damages under Article 2220 of the Civil Code. Malice or bad faith implies a conscious and intentional design to do a wrongful act for a dishonest purpose or moral obliquity; it is different from the negative idea of negligence in that malice or bad faith contemplates a state of mind affirmatively operating with furtive design or ill will.

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It bears noting that Rudy was engaged in the lawful exercise of his property rights to introduce renovations to his abode. While he initially did not have a building permit and may have misrepresented his real intent when he initially sought Rico’s consent, the lack of the permit was inconsequential since it only rendered Rudy liable to administrative sanctions or penalties. Moreover, Rudy was also able to demonstrate that he had actually taken measures to prevent, or at the very least, minimize the damage to Rico’s property occasioned by the construction work.

Necessarily, too, Rico is not inclined to award exemplary damages.

Q: Is Rudy totally cleared from any liability whatsoever?

A: Rico and his family’s rights to the peaceful enjoyment of their property have, at the very least, been inconvenienced from the incident borne of Rudy’s construction work. Any pecuniary loss or damage suffered by Rico cannot be established as there was no factual evidence adduced  to establish the same. Nominal damages may thus be adjudicated in order that a right of  Rico which has been violated or invaded by the defendant, Rudy herein, may be vindicated or recognized, and not for the purpose of indemnifying the plaintiff for any loss suffered by him.

(Source: Regala vs. Carin, G.R. No. 188715, April 6, 2011)

Ma. Soledad Deriquito-Mawis

Dean, Lyceum of the Philippines University; Mawis Law Office; Board of Trustees Member, Philippine Association of Law Schools

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