It is my turn to plan going home to Manila after almost 7 years of absence to collect a modest fee from a case of relatives I have taken on contingent basis — meaning my fees come only if we win the case. It is my wife who always goes home to attend to her sick mother.
Suing a government institution like Land Bank of the Philippines for its obigation was like going through an unscrutable labyrinth that makes sleuthing through its macabre maze horrendously difficult. The case-file despite its several copies filed with the Court of Appeals ‘mysteriously’ disappeared. We have to laboriously reconstitute the records of the case. We won the case at the Regional Trial Court of Naga City presided by a very able judge, David Naval in 1995. Land Bank went to the Court of Appeals. We won again after the tedious process of reconstituting the records of the case. Land Bank filed a recon. CA reverses itself. We went to the Supreme Court for Review on Certiorari, the Supreme Court dismissed our Petition. We filed a recon. It was granted. To be able to ask the Supreme Court to reconsider its previous order was difficult specially if you were not well-connected. I can say that I could have made a very good motion for recon to cause the SC to relent on its previous order.
We filed the case in May 1991 and the SC finally disposed of the case in July 2013. It took the judicial system 22 years and 2 months to finally dispose of the case. I hope Land Bank will not file a recon.
The value of the peso has been so battered for the past two decades that our victory in this case becomes pyrrhic and mostly symbolic. But as I go through the records of the case which I have asked my nephew long time ago to transmit the case-folder here in the U.S., I found my pleading in another case, Sps. Jose and Gloria Camano vs. PLDT. I read my old pleading like a high school student amazed at his own capacity to compose a decent prose.
I am reproducing herein substantial portion of the pleading that was filed in the Court of Appeals so that lawyers and law students and ordinary citizens can learn from it. PLDT lose the case in the Regional Trial Court of Quezon City and it went to the CA. The CA sustained the decision of the trial court. It did not go to the SC for Review. And for good reason, I hoped.
This story unfolds in one ordinary day in July 1998 when defendant Philippine Long Distance Telephone Company, (PLDT, for short) severed the telephone line of the spouses and plaintiffs-appellees Jose Camano and Gloria Camano, (spouses, for short), which was installed at residence of the spouses and doubles as Atty. Jose Camano’s law office in Quezon City.
PLDT claimed that the spouses were indebted to it by way of phone charges in the amount of P15,773.84. Without establishing its right to collect the claimed phone bills in the face of the fact that these bills were disputed, PLDT proceeded to cut the telephone service of the spouses. The action was brazen, wanton, and an arrogant display of corporate muscle.
“With the establishment of courts of justice, persons are no longer allowed to take the law in their own hands. A person entitled to the exercise of a right should resort to the competent authority to enforce such rights. An action should be filed in court, so that the public force may be utilized to enforce the right.” (Tolentino, Civil Code,citing 6 Von Tuhr 294-299).
Issues of facts are left to the trial court and this Honorable Court cannot modify them unless those findings are not supported by the evidence on records. We respectfully submit that those findings are supported by the records and the awards are not excessive, but rather, inadequate.
“As to damages awarded to McLoughlin, we see no reason to modify the amounts awarded by the appellate court for the same were based on facts and law. It is within the province of lower courts to settle factual issues such as the proper amount of damages awarded and such finding is binding upon this Court especially if sufficiently proven by evidence and not unconscionable or excessive.” (YHT Realty Corporation , vs. CA, G.R. No. 126780, Feb 17, 2005).
THE AWARD IS A MERE SLAP ON THE WRIST
To discuss the issues raised by PLDT, spouses would make a rehash of the arguments already embodied in their brief. They have no intention of doing that, but instead would opt to make additional arguments to convince this Honorable Court that the decision appealed from was prudent although the award was a mere pittance and this Court should upgrade the awards.
So we start with the story of a mother with 3 minor children and a husband she left behind in the Philippines in 1992 to work abroad. She is a nurse and felt that she should be earning more in the US, as most Filipino nurses would believe so. But leaving your minor children to work abroad does not equivocate for lack of care, devotion and matriarchal concern to your family. Nor could her action be “treasonous” for deserting the motherland. It is adding more value to your life by exercising your profession in the most productive way. To fault her is to fault thousand of other nurses toiling abroad, who incidentally are doing no easy job but hard, laborious and stressful job. Most of these hardworking nurses dream of coming back home someday and spend the rest of their lives in the only country they know and love. But for the meantime, they have to contend with the angst and pain of separation from their families. No mother and wife is ever prepared to leave her family and every mother knows that. These overseas workers, in order to survive the loneliness of being away from their family have to devise some ways to get their minds off to their loved ones they left behind. Observable from most of them is that they would work sixteen hours every day hoping that when they go home they would be too tired to think of their family left in the Philippines. Others, like plaintiff-appellee Gloria Camano, would call her home twice: one in the morning before she goes to work and one in the afternoon after coming home from work and as she retires to bed. She has to spend from 200 to 300 and sometimes 400 dollars every month for these calls. These are on record and never disputed by PLDT. (p. 185-205, rollo; p. 5-11, tsn, Dec. 14, 1998).
Can any tragedy be more brutal and bruising than finding out one day as she goes out to work that she can no longer talk to her family? She has learned the ritual and the protocol of this routine too well and most intuitively that it has become part of her daily regimen. Her life would be incomplete and in total disarray if she failed in one single day to phone back home to inquire into her kids’ safety and welfare. She was devastated, she was in pain and she suffered. (tsn, Dec. 14, 1998). Only a mother can understand this pain and it is but proper that she be compensated for the full measure of this pain and sufferings.
PLDT suggested that Gloria Camano’s woe was her own making. It was postulated that the spouses were not earning in the Philippines so she has to go and therefore must be prepared for the trade-off. Insensitive of a mother’s plight and genuine sufferings, PLDT can only dish out the most malicious insinuation where an apology would have been more appropriate and proper. But what is wrong in finding your own sun in some unknown land when even your government and your country for lack of traditional resources like oil, minerals and timbers, would instead export their most valuable resource: skilled manpower? To buoy up the economy, the government sets up an agency to place workers abroad and encourages Filipinos to work abroad so they can remit dollars to the country. The government finds honor in this and viewed these workers as the 21st century heroes. PLDT lives on the blood these overseas workers because their overseas calls and the calls of those whom they left behind using the infrastructure of PLDT mean more revenues to it. It is amazing that PLDT finds fault on someone’s decision to work abroad when it has directly and collectively earned from these migrant workers.
Can PLDT understand the magnitude of its action and true to its much advertised line that PLDT connects people and connects lives? Or it is just plain advertising tool to pad its corporate pockets?
Spouses could hardly fault PLDT for making money the honest way and we expect it not to fault plaintiff-appellee Gloria Camano for working abroad and make money. But Ms. Camano’s money is hard-earned and came with a costly trade-off, while some of PLDT’s money is earned in the most larcenous and inordinate way. That is where spouses fault PLDT.
Or to put it most bluntly: PLDT can pad the phone bills of One Million of its subscribers with One Thousand Pesos each subscriber and threaten them with disconnection if those padded bills are not paid, and almost always, all would grumblingly and indignantly pay, rather than look for a lawyer and contest the bills in court for if the situation of the spouses could be an indication, no amount of protests and threat of a lawsuit, could prevent PLDT from arbitrarily disconnecting your phone lines. So PLDT can make a whopping sum of, hold your breath, ONE BILLION PESOS, effortlessly through the most vicious, immoral and indecent way. Local wags would call it highway robbery in broad daylight – it is also an abrasive way of subjecting its subscribers to indignities. It is a corporate raid of helpless subscribers’ pocket, and yes, PLDT would like to get away with it and it is asking this Honorable Court to get away with it. But the phone of the spouses have not been padded with One Thousand Pesos. It has been padded with P15,773.84.
No wonder it is one of the top corporate earners in the country. It is a multi-billion corporation, and yet, it would grumble at the court’s imposition of Moral Damages of P500,000.00 and P250,000.00 exemplary damages.
For this Court to entertain the idea to mitigate the award is equivalent to slapping the wrist of a felon who raped and killed his prey. Viewed from its predatory habit, the trial court’s award is but a trickle in a bucket; any lesser amount than those awarded by the trial court would fail to awaken the conscience of the board of PLDT, and they may not adopt plans and policies to address the plight of thousands of complaining subscribers. Like an unrepentant criminal, it would degenerate into a recidivist and hope to get away with it every time it commits an indecent and immoral raid on the unwary subscribers’ pockets. Subsequent predatory onslaughts against these helpless subscribers would bring more inordinate profits to PLDT and anyone as persistent and tenacious as spouses who put up with this piratical, and ravenous pillaging in the high seas of telecommunication industry could be given a pittance of this illicit money and PLDT could still enjoy a whopping residue and it could die laughing in the end. Truth to tell, the entire award of P750,000.00 could be imputed as exemplary damages and still be considered a pittance. The tortfeasor’s financial standing is a factor in the determination of imposing exemplary damages. It is counter-intuitive, pointless and purposeless as a way of censure and punitive award, any money viewed as loose change by PLDT’s standard and a pittance compared to the money its has grossed through this predatory exploit. The rational behind exemplary damages or corrective damages is to provide an example or correction for the public good. They are designed to reshape behavior that is socially deleterious in its consequence. (Makabili v. CA 157 SCRA 253; Ledesma v. CA 160 SCRA 449; Mecenas v. CA 180 SCRA 83).
But this is not to say that the spouses had not been morally transgressed. They had been and this transgression was fully explained by the trial court and it was supported by the records.
PLDT was reckless in disconnecting the phone line of the spouses despite being updated in their phone bills; despite their vigilance and unceasing protest against every erroneous bills made by PLDT. They wrote, they visited and phoned PLDT’s office to complain about these phony phone bills. But it did not deter PLDT from arbitrarily disconnecting the phone of the spouses.
PLDT had promised plaintiff-appellee Gloria Camano in person that it would not severe the telephone line because those bills were under protest, but only to disconnect it when she was abroad and literally not looking.
Twice during the trial and while the case was pending in court and a deposit made to answer for the contested bills in case PLDT can prove the correctness of its bill, it has disconnected the telephone service of the spouses.
PLDT seeks excuse by claiming inadvertence and computer error on those subsequent disconnections. Spouses would say it was pure arrogance and harassment.
And to lure plaintiff-appellee Gloria Camano not to worry about the phone being disconnected only to disconnect it later was an act of bad faith. Pure, simple and unadulterated. Recovery for moral damages may even be adjudged short of bad faith as long as the party can prove that the act of the defendant had caused serious anxiety, embarrassment and humiliation on the part of the plaintiff.
In the case of Philippine National Bank vs. Court of Appeals,7 “x x x the responsibility arising from negligence in the performance of every kind of obligation is demandable. While petitioner’s negligence in this case may not have been attended with malice and bad faith, nevertheless, it caused serious anxiety, embarrassment and humiliation“, (underscoring supplied). Hence we ruled that the offended party in said case was entitled to recover reasonable moral damages. [G.R, No. 126152, Sept. 28, 1999, citing the cases of Metropolitan Bank and Trust Company v. CA, 237 SCRA 761 (1994) and Leopoldo Araneta v. Bank of America, 40 SCRA 144 (1971).]
In another case the Supreme Court held: “Damages are not intended to enrich the complainant at the expense of the defendant, and there is no hard-and-fast rule in the determination of what would be a fair amount of moral damages since each case must be governed by its own peculiar facts. The yardstick should be that it is not palpably and scandalously excessive.”
“In this case, the award of P100,000.00 is reasonable considering the reputation and social standing of private respondent Pujol and applying our rulings in similar cases involving banks’ negligence with regard to the accounts of their depositors. (Tan v. CA, G.R. No. 108555, 20 December 1994, 239 SCRA 310).
And speaking of one’s status as a gauge for the approximation of imputing moral liability, the spouses pointed out in their brief that they do not believe that they were third rate professionals that could be trashed and subjected to indignities by PLDT. Husband Jose C. Camano is a graduate of the University of the Philippines College of Law in 1978 and had been active in trial practice since 1979 after he passed the bar, (p 4-5, tsn, Feb. 25, 1999) while his wife Gloria Camano is the Director of Westwood Nursing Center in Detroit, Michigan, USA and a consultant of three (3) other nursing centers, (p. 3-5, tsn, Dec. 14, 1998). Plaintiff-appellee Jose Camano and his three (3) children would go to the US twice a year in order to be with plaintiff-appellee Gloria Camano. ( p. 23, tsn, ibid). But even assuming that the spouses are low and humble professionals, they could not, for this reason alone, be denied of reasonable compensation for their pain and sufferings.
PLDT has acted in reckless abandon and in bad faith but it would deny in rigid stupor, ever causing pain and sufferings on the spouses specially against plaintiff-appellee Gloria Camano whose situation every mother could easily find empathy with. It has not found, up to this very day, to own up to its misconduct and misdeed and has never been repentant about it.
It has viewed with cold and chilly disposition as every corporate person must, the sufferings of natural persons. It has no feeling of remorse and of pain, it has no emotion. Being an artificial person, indeed, it is without feeling, emotion and without a conscience, its exist only from legal contemplation and fiction.
And this is the reason why the standard of penalty imposed against corporations is not measured in the same cylinder and calibrated in the same measuring cup as those used in censuring an individual person. They are fined most heavily for corporate misconduct if only to jolt them from their glacial slumber and melt the chilly arrogance of their corporate officers and make them realize that they had fleeced their subscribers and they should be prepared on the day of reckoning. And their reckoning day, alas, has arrived.
So the claim that the spouses are not worth the Five Hundred Thousand Pesos (P500,000.00) moral damages loses so much steam. Like the award for exemplary damage, such award is calibrated not only in terms of the status of the aggrieved party hut the status of the tortfeasor as well. It cannot be overemphasized that any award that is less would be a mere slap on the wrist, as it is now though, the current award, is already a slap on the wrist.
Factors courts take into account in assessing moral damages are professional, social, political and financial standing of the offended parties, on one hand, and the business and financial position of the offender, on the other hand. (Lopez v. Pan American, 16 SCR A 431; Zuiueta v. Pan American, 43 SCRA 397; Strebel v. Figueras, G.R. No. L-4722; Dec. 29, 1954, citing 25 C. J. S. 67 and 15 Am. Jur., 597-598).
And so, if one of the objectives of the appeal is to mitigate PLDT’s liability as awarded by the trial court, this Court can look the other way and try to double if not treble the award. The spouses hope that they prevail in this case not only before this Honorable Court but before the Supreme Court so that future students of law may learn from this case. There is definitely a dearth of authorities to guide students on how to deal with marauding corporations in the telecommunication industry. May this case implant the first seed for the rude awakening of giant utility companies that they cannot forever trample upon the rights of the consumers, though how humble and lowly their stations in life may be. And this Court is not without authority to double or treble the awards of the trial court. It may take some guidance from a Quebec Appellate court cited herein below.
One efficiency-based rationale for punitive damages is that they serve an important corrective role for torts that have a significant probability of going undetected. Potential injurers who expect to be held liable only one-third of the time will not have efficient incentives to exercise care unless they expect to pay treble damages on the occasions when they are held responsible. [Quebec v. Syndicat National Des Employes, (1996) 3.S.C.R. 211].
Footnote: Gloria spent all the money (P750,000,00 in all) in one month to massage her ruffled feelings and besmirched honor!