Court's protection for the underdog (Article 24, Civil Code)

In all contractual, property or other relations, when one of the parties is at a disadvantage on account of his moral dependence, ignorance, indigence, mental weakness, tender age or other handicap, the courts must be vigilant for his protection. (Article 24, Civil Code)

Thea above provision of the Civil Code is called by Paras as the "courts' protection of the underdog." He explained: "The law takes great interest in the welfare of the weak and the handicapped. Thus, we have parens patriae." Parens patriae is a Latin term meaning “parent of the fatherland." It is a legal term that refers to government's power to act as the legal guardian for people who are unable to care for themselves.

As a rule, Philippine courts are courts are courts of law. This means that the job of the courts is to apply the law. Equity, which is justice outside legality, is the exception rather than the general rule, which is justified if and only if there is silence, obscurity or insufficiency of the law or if there is doubt in the interpretation or application of the law.

Article 24 allows another exception to the general rule. Courts are allowed by law to give more protection to those who are morally dependent, those who are ignorant, those who are mentally week, those who are young or those who are handicapped. This, of course, does not mean that they are above the law or that they are given a preferential status but simply means that courts must be vigilant as others may take advantage of their disadvantaged status.

Article 24 enables another constitutional principle -- social justice. According to the Supreme Court, "Social justice is neither communism, nor despotism, nor atomism, nor anarchy, but the humanization of laws and the equalization of social and economic forces by the State so that justice in its rational and objectively secular conception may at least be approximated. Social justice means the promotion of the welfare of all the people, the adoption by the Government of measures calculated to insure economic stability of all the component elements of society, through the maintenance of a proper economic and social equilibrium in the interrelations of the members of the community, constitutionally, through the adoption of measures legally justifiable, or extra-constitutionally, through the exercise of powers underlying the existence of all governments on the time-honored principle of salus populi est suprema lex."(Calalang v. Willams, G.R. No. 47800, December 2, 1940)

From the long definition above, it can be noticed that social justice is the humanization of laws and the equalization of social and economic forces. In simpler terms, social justice is giving more law to those who have less in life.

Article 24 is related to Article 1332 of the Civil Code. Article 1332 says: "When one of the parties is unable to read, or if the contract is in a language not understood by him, and mistake or fraud is alleged, the person enforcing the contract must show that the terms thereof have been fully explained to the former xxx."

In Rural Bank of Caloocan, Inc. v. Court of Appeals, the Supreme Court ruled that a contract may be annulled on the ground of vitiated consent, even if the act complained of is committed by a third party without the connivance or complicity of one of the contracting parties. It found that a substantial mistake arose from the employment of fraud or misrepresentation. The plaintiff in that case was a 70-year old unschooled and unlettered woman who signed an unauthorized loan obtained by a third party on her behalf. The Court annulled the contract due to a substantial mistake which invalidated her consent. (Cited in Cruz v. Cruz, G.R. No. 211153, February 28, 2018)

In Remalante v. Tibe, the Supreme Court ruled that misrepresentation to an illiterate woman who did not know how to read and write, nor understand English, is fraudulent. Thus, the deed of sale was considered vitiated with substantial error and fraud. (Cited in Cruz v. Cruz, G.R. No. 211153, February 28, 2018)