Published 1 January 2021, The Daily Tribune

What a gleeful coincidence that the start of New Year coincides with our very first column for 2021. As another year starts, doors open to better choices. A chance to start anew is provided to all, and with new beginnings come hope and much room for improvement. Indeed, most of us start the year with a list of resolutions that we aspire for in the coming year. This list may include financial, physical and even spiritual goals. But did you know this could also include a legal goal?

Giving everyone his due by exercising good faith in all dealings is a good resolution not just for 2021, but also beyond.

This principle is enshrined in Article 19 of the Civil Code.

It states that every person must, in the exercise of his rights and in the performance of his duties, act with justice, give everyone his due, and observe honesty and good faith. In other words, Article 19 is the codification of justice and fair play in the performance of one’s duties and in observing his actions. Interestingly, Article 19 marks the beginning of a chapter in the Civil Code entitled “Human Relations,” for indeed the chapter deals with so-called norms of conduct in dealing with each other in respect of rights and duties.

This provision has also been touted as a limitation on the exercise of one’s rights. This provision reminds that one cannot abuse his/her rights to the prejudice or damage of another person.

According to the esteemed former Senator Arturo Tolentino in his eminent work on the Civil Code, the exercise of a right ends when the right disappears, and it disappears when it is abused, especially to the prejudice of others.

Indeed, a person should be protected only when he acts in the legitimate exercise of his right, that is, when he acts with prudence and in good faith; but not when he acts with negligence or abuse (Tolentino, Civil Code of the Philippines, 1990 Ed., Vol. 1, p. 61, as cited in De Guzman vs NLRC, GR 90856, 23 July 1992).

“Good faith” is a commonly used term which in reality has nothing to do with simply doing “good” or having “faith” — although it is excellent to have both these things.

As a legal concept, good faith refers to the state of mind consisting of the intention to abstain from taking an unconscionable and unscrupulous advantage of another.

This state of mind is manifested outwardly through one’s acts. In contrast, malice or bad faith implies a conscious and intentional design to do a wrongful act for a dishonest purpose.

Under the abuse of rights principle found in Article 19 of the Civil Code, a person would be liable if he instead acted in bad faith, with intent to prejudice another.

A fit illustration is the overzealousness of the petitioners – employees of a retail company – in proving that respondent, an airline employee, allegedly failed to pay for a pair of jeans from their store.

While petitioners initially had the right to demand payment and investigate, their overzealousness resulted in humiliating respondent.

They even sent a letter to respondent’s employer to narrate the incident. Petitioners were found to have abused their rights because in doing so, they actually infringed on respondent’s own rights.

They were held liable for damages under Article 19 in relation to Article 21 of the Civil Code, which states that any person who willfully causes loss or injury to another in a manner that is contrary to morals or good customs, or public policy shall compensate the latter for the damage (California Clothing Inc. vs Quinones, GR 175822, 23 October 2013).

In another case, the Supreme Court reminded that the principle of giving everyone his due also applies in contracts.

The Court found that the counterparty’s issuance of an unfunded check when it came time to pay the supplier and its entering into a contract with a third person in an effort to evade its liability amount to a breach of contract done in bad faith.

Persons who have the right to enter into contractual relations must exercise that right with honesty and good faith.

Failure to do so results in an abuse of that right, which may become the basis of an action for damages (Arco Pulp and Paper Co. Inc. vs Lim, GR 206806, 25 June 2014).

Indeed, New Year is about celebrating new beginnings.

Let us fuel the year with good faith and good cheers, brought about by a clean conscience and a resolve to act with justness and honesty of purpose all year round.

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