Animosity against generosity
A LAW EACH DAY (KEEPS TROUBLE AWAY) - Jose C. Sison (The Philippine Star) - January 23, 2019 - 12:00am

Under Article 562 of the New Civil Code, an owner of a property may allow another to temporarily use (jus utendi) and enjoy the fruits (jus fruendi) of said property with the obligation of preserving its form and substance. Under this arrangement, the owner solely retains the right to dispose of, or alienate said property. This arrangement is known as Usufruct. Under this arrangement, the owner may impose conditions to be complied by said person known as the “usufructuary.”  If however said usufructuary violates these conditions, what is the remedy of the owner? This is answered in this case of Medy.

In her younger days, Medy was already teaching in several schools in different cities. Later she had the good fortune of furthering her studies in a university in the USA where she also taught. Upon finishing her studies seven years later, she worked at said university for the next 17 years.

During those years Medy would come home to the Philippines to spend summer vacation in her hometown, staying in the house of her niece Perla, the daughter of her sister Flora. Back in the USA after vacation, Medy learned that Perla’s house was infested with rebels with many men and women becoming victims of the fight between the government forces and said rebels. So Medy sent money to her older sister Celia with instructions to buy a lot in a safer place where Perla could stay.

After acquiring a lot in a village, Medy, likewise made known her desire that the property be also available to any of her relatives wishing to live and settle in the city. For this purpose she executed a document specifically allowing Perla and her husband Dado together with their children, as well as any of her relatives to stay on the property and build their house thereon and for as long as they like, under the following conditions: (1) that they maintain an atmosphere of cooperation, live harmoniously, and avoid bickering with one another; (2)that their purpose is not inimical to her purpose; (3) that any income derived from the properties shall be allotted to pay the nearest of kin who have less in life in greater percentage than those who are better off; and (4) that any relative who cannot conform with her wishes may look for another place of their own.

Following her retirement, Medy came back to the Philippines to stay with Perla and Dado in the house they built on her property. In the course of time however their relationship turned sour because members of Perla’s family did not heed her suggestions and attempts to change certain practices on matters of health and sanitation within the compound. In fact the eldest son of Perla would even answer Medy with clenched fist and hurled profanities at her when she corrected him. Later, Perla herself followed suit, prompting Medy to sue them in the barangay for slander, harassment, threat and defamation. The Lupon thus ordered Perla’s family to vacate Medy’s property after being reimbursed the value of the house they built thereon.

Then when the relations further deteriorated from worse to worst, Medy demanded them to vacate the property. And when they refused, she already filed with the Municipal Trial Court (MTCC) an unlawful detainer suit against the spouses. In their defense, the spouses alleged having entered the property, built and maintained their house as their residence with Medy’s full knowledge and express consent.

But the MTCC ruled in favor of Medy, declaring that the spouse cannot invoke their good faith as a valid excuse for not complying with the demand to vacate, thus rendering their continued possession as unlawful because it is merely at Medy’s tolerance and without any rental. This ruli was however reversed by the Regional Trial Court and the Court of Appeals which declared that the spouses’stay at the premises was not by mere tolerance but rather with the express consent of Medy and that their right to possess had not been resolved yet. The CA further ruled that what governs the rights of the parties is the law on usufruct. But Medy failed to establish that Perla and Dado’s right to possess had already ceased. Were the RTC and CA correct? 

The Supreme Court ruled that the RTC and CA are not correct. While it is true that usufruct over the land has been constituted, the action for unlawful detainer should not have been dismissed on the ground of prematurity. In essence, Usufruct is simply allowing one to enjoy another’s property. In this case Medy made known her intention to give Perla and Dado and other relatives the right to use and to enjoy the fruits of the property; to build their own house thereon and to stay there as long as they like. Undoubtedly Usufruct was constituted between Medy and the spouses Perla and Dado.

The document executed by Medy sets forth the conditions of said Usufruct, particularly that any of her relatives may stay therein and avail the use thereof provided that the same is not inimical to the purpose constituting the Usufruct. In this case, Medy made it clear that any of her relatives who wishes to stay on the property should maintain an atmosphere of cooperation, live in harmony and avoid bickering with one another; and that anybody who cannot conform to her wishes, should leave the premises and stay somewhere else. Thus the occurrence of any of the foregoing conditions extinguishes the usufruct. In this case, the continuing animosity between Medy and the spouses Perla and Dado, and the violence and humiliation endured, despite her advanced age and frail condition, are enough factual bases to terminate the usufruct. And by express provision of Article 579 of the Civil Code, the spouses do not have the right to be indemnified of the improvements they introduced thereon. So the spouse should vacate the premises without any right of reimbursement (Moralidad vs. Spouse Pernes, G.R. 152809, August 3, 2006)

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