Recovery of damages even if there is no law violated (Article 21, Civil Code)

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 of the Civil Code of the Philippines)

What is the difference between Article 20 and Article 21 of the Civil Code? Article 20 talks about willful and negligent violation of the law, causing injury to another and thereby justifying a claim for damages. On the other hand, Article 21 talks about willful acts causing loss or injury.

There is a clear difference between Articles 20 and 21 of the Civil Code because, while the recovery under the first is based on law, the second is not based on law. In any case, if there is loss or injury as a result of an intentional act or omission and the same goes against morals, public order or good habits, a claim for damages would still prosper against the offender.

It cannot be denied that the laws derive from good morals and customs. Grotius, one of the foremost legal philosophers and writers of the Middle Ages, had the same concept as our bloggers when he said that the law was nothing more than a "rule of moral action that binds what is correct". It cannot be denied that habits are another way of organizing human behavior which poses virtually the same problem in terms of law and morality. In fact, it is said with good authority that the human race has been ruled by custom for much longer than it has lived under the rule of law.

According to Albano, it cannot be justly denied that laws have sprung up from the fountain of morals and good customs. Albano cites Grotius and says law is nothing but "a rule of moral action obliging to that which is right." Neither could it be denied that custom is another method of regulating human conduct which presents much the same problem in relation to law as does morals. In fact, it is said from good authority that mankind has been governed by customs longer than it has lived under the reign of law.

Would not Article 21 obliterate the boundary line between morality and law? The answer is that, in the last analysis, every good law draws its breath of life from morals, from those principles which are written with words of fire in the conscience of man. Furthermore, there is no belief of more baneful consequences upon the social order than that a person may with impunity cause damage to his fellowmen so long as he does not break any law of the State, though he may be defying the most sacred postulates of morality. What is more, the victim loses faith in the ability of the government to afford him protection or relief. (Report of the Code Commission, pp. 40-41)

To justify an award for moral and exemplary damages under Article 19 to 21 of the Civil Code (on human relations), the claimants must establish the other party’s malice or bad faith by clear and convincing evidence. (Solidbank Corp. vs. Mindanao Ferroalloy Corp., et al., G.R. No. 153535, July 25, 2005)

A popular discussion under Article 21 is about breach of promise to marry. There is no law that prohibits or penalizes failure to marry someone after promising the latter marriage. Therefore, Article 20 would not apply since it requires a deliberate or imprudence violation of the law. This is where Article 21 becomes very useful.

As a general rule, a breach of promise to marry is not an actionable wrong. However, if it is attended by bad faith, fraud, deceit or machination, it would run counter to good customs and would result in a cause of action for damages. For example, in the case of Pe v. Pe (G. R. No. L-17396, May 30, 1962), an action for damages was filed by the family of an unmarried woman against a married man who frequently visited her on the pretext that he wanted her to teach him how to pray the rosary. They fell in love with each other and had had secret romantic episodes. The relationship was prohibited by the family but they eloped.

It was held that the circumstances under which the married man tried to win unmarried woman's affection cannot lead to any other conclusion than there was use of ingenious scheme or trickery to seduce the latter to the extent of making her fall in love with him. Because of the frequency of his visits, the two eventually fell in love. Defendant continued his love affairs with her until she disappeared from the parental home. Indeed, no other conclusion can be drawn from this chain of events than that defendant not only deliberately but also  through a cleverly and strategically succeeded in winning the affection and love of the unmarried woman to the extent of having illicit relations with her. The wrong he has caused her and her family is indeed immeasurable considering the fact that he is a married man. Therefore, he has committed an injury to the family in a manner contrary to morals, good customs and public policy as contemplated in Article 21 of the New Civil Code.

The law makes it imperative 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) Hence, failure to observe the reasonable degree of care and vigilance which the surrounding circumstances reasonably impose makes one liable for the damages. Under Article 21 of the New Civil Code, "any person who wilfully 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." These provisions on human relations were written with the intention to expand the concept of torts in this jurisdiction by granting adequate legal remedy for the untold number of moral wrongs which is impossible for human foresight to specifically provide in the statutes. (G.R. No. L-27155, May 18, 1978)

Another example, this time given by the Code Commission, is a situation in which AAA tricks the 19-year-old daughter of X. AAA's promise of marriage either has not been made or cannot be proved. The girl got pregnant. Under present criminal laws, there is no crime because the girl is above 18 years of age. Neither can any civil action for breach of promise be filed. Under Article 21, she and her parents would have the right to bring an action for damages against AAA. However, if there was no trickery, deceit or fraud and the sexual congress was a result of mutual lust between two consenting adults, there can be no successful action for damages.