Published 27 December 2019, The Daily Tribune

Touted as the most wonderful time of the year, Christmas traditionally brings together families and friends in cheerful reunions. Estranged relations are fixed and relationships are repaired during this time. But all year round, the law expects us to be in good relations with one another by providing a minimum standard of conduct that upholds good faith and the observance of rights.

The Civil Code provides in its chapter on Human Relations 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 (Article 19). Every person who, contrary to law, willfully or negligently causes damage to another shall indemnify the latter for the same (Article 20). On the other hand, any person who willfully causes loss or injury to another in a manner that is contrary to morals, good customs, or public policy shall compensate the latter for the damage (Article 21).

Essentially, any right exercised or duty performed must be in a manner that conforms with standards laid down by law, lest one becomes liable for damages even if the act done is not illegal per se.

In the case of California Clothing Inc. vs Quiñones, (GR 175822, 23 October 2013), Quiñones was accused of not paying for an item brought out of a store, and subjected to humiliation by the employees of petitioner, the owner of a popular clothing store. The latter allegedly wrote the employer of Quiñones about the incident, resulting in a fact-finding investigation conducted by the company for purposes of canceling Quiñones’ corporate credit card.

The Supreme Court (SC) ruled that while petitioner had the right to verify from Quiñones whether she indeed made payment for the items, the exercise of such right is not without limitations. It is evident from the circumstances of the case that petitioner’s employees went overboard and tried to force Quiñones to pay the amount they were demanding as shown by the sending of a letter to her employer not only informing it of the incident but also imputing bad acts on her part. The High Court reminded that the exercise of a right must be in accordance with the purpose for which it was established and must not be excessive or unduly harsh.

In the recent case of Elizabeth Diaz vs Encanto, et al., (GR 171303, 20 January 2016), a professor at a state university applied for a sabbatical leave with pay, but the application was denied. It led to her filing of a criminal complaint with the Office of the Ombudsman against some university officials. She also filed a civil case for damages with the Regional Trial Court (RTC). Although the Ombudsman dismissed the complaint, the RTC resolved the case in petitioner Diaz’s favor by granting her payment of unpaid salaries for the period she had been declared absent without leave (AWOL) after the disapproval of her application.

On review, the SC held that the resolution of the case hinged on the question of bad faith on the part of the respondents Encanto, et. al. Malice or bad faith is at the core of Article 19 of the Civil Code. Good faith refers to the state of mind which is manifested by the acts of the individual concerned, and is presumed. Bad faith, which involves a dishonest purpose or some moral obloquy and conscious doing of a wrong, must therefore be proved.

Undoubtedly, the respondents had a duty to resolve petitioner’s sabbatical leave application. However, they did not do so with the intention of prejudicing or injuring petitioner. The grant of a sabbatical leave is not a matter of right but a privilege. Further, no less than the Ombudsman, in a case instituted by petitioner, had dismissed the complaint for lack of merit. It found no manifest partiality, evident bad faith, or gross inexcusable negligence on the part of the respondents in their denial of petitioner’s application for sabbatical leave and in requiring her to accomplish a Report for Duty form as a prerequisite for her entitlement to salary. On the matter of her salaries, the same were legally withheld for petitioner own refusal to comply with the documentary requirements of the university.

Given that the respondents have not abused their rights, they should not be held liable for any damages sustained by petitioner — for the law affords no remedy for damages resulting from an act which does not amount to a legal wrong.

Merry Christmas.

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