A LAW EACH DAY (KEEPS TROUBLE AWAY) - Jose C. Sison (The Philippine Star) - July 11, 2018 - 12:00am

A minor or incompetent person can do acts with legal effect only through a guardian duly appointed by the Court. Minor is a person below 21 years old, while an incompetent is a person, 21 years old and above but still incapable of taking care of himself /herself and/or his/her properties by reason of old age, disease, weak mind or other similar causes. How is incompetency determined and proven? Is expert opinion necessary to prove it? These are the questions resolved in this case of Maya.

Maya is the daughter of a couple who was placed by her father under the care of her maternal uncle when her mother died while giving birth to her. When she was only four years old, her father got married again and begot three children, George, Sally and Annie.

When Maya began to live with her father and his new family again at age ten, she had already inherited valuable real properties from the family of her late mother especially from her uncle who named her as his sole heir. Upon reaching 21 years of age, she was given full control of her properties by her uncle, but her father continued to administer them because Maya did not even finish her elementary schooling and reached only Grade 5 as she was prone to violence.

While Maya’s father was administering her properties, he transferred one of them, with an area of 11 hectares under his name by allegedly purchasing it for an undisclosed amount and then developed it into a subdivision. When Maya was already 36 years old, her father died. So Maya’s half brother and sisters took over. Sally informed her that her 11-hectare property was under litigation and she should sign a Special Power of Attorney (SPA) so that Sally will appear for and in her behalf in court although she was in fact unknowingly authorizing Sally to sell said property. Then George asked Maya to lease her 45-hectare property so that she could buy her a car and provide her a driver.

After learning that her half-siblings had been dissipating her estate, Maya already sought the help of Sarah, her first cousin on her mother’s side. She confided to Sarah that she was made to live in the basement of their home occupying a cramped room lit by a single fluorescent lamp without a proper toilet and was given a daily allowance of P400 only. So Sarah brought her to some doctors for medical examination and she was found to have tuberculosis, rheumatism and diabetes with several complications.

Sarah demanded an inventory and accounting of Maya’s estate from her half-siblings, but the latter refused. So Sarah already filed a petition for guardianship of Maya alleging that she was incapable of taking care of herself and managing her estate because she was of weak mind.

Maya’s half siblings intervened and opposed it contending that Maya is not an incompetent who needs a legal guardian and that all her acts regarding her estate are valid and effective. They claimed that the opinions of Maya’s attending physicians were inadmissible in evidence as they were not experts in psychiatry. Were they correct?

The Regional Trial Court (RTC) ruled that Maya was incapable of taking care of herself and her properties without outside help, due to her ailments and weak mind. This ruling was affirmed by the Court of Appeals (CA). So her half siblings appealed to the Supreme Court (SC) insisting on their contention.

But the SC still denied their appeal. According to the SC, an ordinary witness may give his opinion on the mental sanity of a person with whom he is sufficiently acquainted (Rule 103, Section 50, Rules of Court). Maya’s attending physicians spoke and interacted with her. Such occasions allowed them to thoroughly observe her behavior and conclude that her intelligence level was below average, and her mental stage was below normal. Their opinions are admissible in evidence.

Where the sanity of a person is at issue, expert opinion is not necessary. The observations of the trial judge coupled with evidence establishing the person’s state of mental sanity will suffice. So the appointment of Sarah as Maya’s guardian is valid, the SC ruled. Her half siblings should thus render an accurate and faithful accounting to Sarah, of Maya’s properties and funds which they unlawfully appropriated for themselves. (Hernandez et. al. vs. Santos, G.R. 166470 and 169217, August 7, 2009)

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