CASE DIGEST: Gonzalo vs. Tarante, Jr.

G.R No. 160600 : JANUARY 15, 2014

DOMINGO GONZALO, Petitioner, v. JOHN TARANTE, JR., Respondent.



After the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) had awarded on July 22, 1997 the contract for the improvement of the Sadsadan-Maba-ay Section of the Mountain Province-Benguet Road in the total amount of P7,014,963.33 to his company, Gonzalo Construction,petitioner Domingo Gonzalo (Gonzalo) subcontracted to respondent John Tarnate, Jr. (Tarnate) on October 15, 1997, the supply of materials and labor for the project under the latter's business known as JNT Aggregates. Their agreement stipulated, among others, that Tarnate would pay to Gonzalo eight percent and four percent of the contract price, respectively, upon Tarnate's first and second billing in the project.

Gonzalo executed on April 6, 1999 a deed of assignment whereby he, as the contractor, was assigning to Tarnate an amount equivalent to 10% of the total collection from the DPWH for the project. This 10% retention fee (equivalent to P233,526.13)was the rent for Tarnate equipment that had been utilized in the project. In the deed of assignment, Gonzalo further authorized Tarnate to use the official receipt of Gonzalo Construction in the processing of the documents relative to the collection of the 10% retention fee and in en cashing the check to be issued by the DPWH for that purpose. The deed of assignment was submitted to the DPWH on April 15, 1999. During the processing of the documents for the retention fee, however, Tarnate learned that Gonzalo had unilaterally rescinded the deed of assignment by means of an affidavit of cancellation of deed of assignment dated April 19, 1999 filed in the DPWH on April 22, 1999; and that the disbursement voucher for the 10% retention fee had then been issued in the name of Gonzalo, and the retention fee released to him.

Tarnate demanded the payment of the retention fee from Gonzalo, but to no avail. Thus, he brought this suit against Gonzalo on September 13, 1999 in the Regional Trial Court (RTC) in Mountain Province to recover the retention fee of P233,526.13, moral and exemplary damages for breach of contract, and attorney fees. In his answer, Gonzalo admitted the deed of assignment and the authority given therein to Tarnate, but averred that the project had not been fully implemented because of its cancellation by the DPWH, and that he had then revoked the deed of assignment. He insisted that the assignment could not stand independently due to its being a mere product of the subcontract that had been based on his contract with the DPWH; and that Tarnate, having been fully aware of the illegality and ineffectuality of the deed of assignment from the time of its execution, could not go to court with unclean hands to invoke any right based on the invalid deed of assignment or on the product of such deed of assignment.

The CA ruled in the affirmative the decision of the RTC that Gonzalo has unjustly enriched Tarnate and that the principle of in pari delicto cannot be applied in the case at bar for the violation of Section 6 P.DNo. 1594 because it will only be applied if the fault of one party was more or less equivalent to the fault of the other party.

ISSUE:Whether or not the CA erred in affirming the RTC?

HELD: The CA did not err in affirming the RTC.

Civil law : doctrine of pari delicto

Section 6 of Presidential Decree No.1594, which provides: Assignment and Subcontract. he contractor shall not assign, transfer, pledge, subcontract or make any other disposition of the contract or any part or interest therein except with the approval of the Minister of Public Works, Transportation and Communications, the Minister of Public Highways, or the Minister of Energy, as the case may be. Approval of the subcontract shall not relieve the main contractor from any liability or obligation under his contract with the Government nor shall it create any contractual relation between the subcontractor and the Government.

Under Article 1409 (1) of the Civil Code, contract whose cause, object or purpose is contrary to law is a void or inexistent contract. As such, a void contract cannot produce a valid one. To the same effect is Article 1422 of the Civil Code, which declares that contract, which is the direct result of a previous illegal contract, is also void and inexistent.

According to Article 1412 (1) of the Civil Code,

The guilty parties to an illegal contract cannot recover from one another and are not entitled to an affirmative relief because they are in pari delicto or in equal fault. The doctrine of in pari delicto is a universal doctrine that holds that no action arises, in equity or at law, from an illegal contract; no suit can be maintained for its specific performance, or to recover the property agreed to be sold or delivered, or the money agreed to be paid, or damages for its violation; and where the parties are in pari delicto, no affirmative relief of any kind will be given to one against the other.

The letter and spirit of Article 22 of the Civil Code command Gonzalo to make a full reparation or compensation to Tarnate. The illegality of their contract should not be allowed to deprive Tarnate from being fully compensated through the imposition of legal interest.

WHEREFORE, we AFFIRM the decision promulgated on February 18, 2003, but DELETE the awards of moral damages, attorney fees and litigation expenses; IMPOSE legal interest of 6% per annum on the principal of P233,526.13 reckoned from September 13, 1999; and DIRECT the petitioner to pay the costs of suit.