See - G.R. No. 168940
SPS. ISAGANI CASTRO and DIOSDADA CASTRO vs. ANGELINA DE LEON TAN, SPS. CONCEPCION T. CLEMENTE and ALEXANDER C. CLEMENTE, SPS. ELIZABETH T. CARPIO and ALVIN CARPIO, SPS. MARIE ROSE T. SOLIMAN and ARVIN SOLIMAN and JULIUS AMIEL TAN, G.R. No. 168940 November 24, 2009.
"x x x.
The Court of Appeals correctly found that the 5% monthly interest, compounded monthly, is unconscionable and should be equitably reduced to the legal rate of 12% per annum.
While we agree with petitioners that parties to a loan agreement have wide latitude to stipulate on any interest rate in view of the Central Bank Circular No. 905 s. 1982 which suspended the Usury Law ceiling on interest effective January 1, 1983, it is also worth stressing that interest rates whenever unconscionable may still be declared illegal. There is certainly nothing in said circular which grants lenders carte blanche authority to raise interest rates to levels which will either enslave their borrowers or lead to a hemorrhaging of their assets.17
In several cases, we have ruled that stipulations authorizing iniquitous or unconscionable interests are contrary to morals, if not against the law. In Medel v. Court of Appeals,18 we annulled a stipulated 5.5% per month or 66% per annum interest on a P500,000.00 loan and a 6% per month or 72% per annum interest on a P60,000.00 loan, respectively, for being excessive, iniquitous, unconscionable and exorbitant. In Ruiz v. Court of Appeals,19 we declared a 3% monthly interest imposed on four separate loans to be excessive. In both cases, the interest rates were reduced to 12% per annum.
In this case, the 5% monthly interest rate, or 60% per annum, compounded monthly, stipulated in the Kasulatan is even higher than the 3% monthly interest rate imposed in the Ruiz case. Thus, we similarly hold the 5% monthly interest to be excessive, iniquitous, unconscionable and exorbitant, contrary to morals, and the law. It is therefore void ab initio for being violative of Article 130620 of the Civil Code. With this, and in accord with the Medel and Ruiz cases, we hold that the Court of Appeals correctly imposed the legal interest of 12% per annum in place of the excessive interest stipulated in the Kasulatan.
The Court of Appeals did not unilaterally change the terms and conditions of the Contract of Mortgage entered into between the petitioners and the respondents.
Petitioners allege that the Kasulatan was entered into by the parties freely and voluntarily.21 They maintain that there was already a meeting of the minds between the parties as regards the principal amount of the loan, the interest thereon and the property given as security for the payment of the loan, which must be complied with in good faith.22 Hence, they assert that the Court of Appeals should have given due respect to the provisions of the Kasulatan.23 They also stress that it is a settled principle that the law will not relieve a party from the effects of an unwise, foolish or disastrous contract, entered into with all the required formalities and with full awareness of what he was doing.24
Petitioners’ contentions deserve scant consideration. In Abe v. Foster Wheeler Corporation,25 we held that the freedom of contract is not absolute. The same is understood to be subject to reasonable legislative regulation aimed at the promotion of public health, morals, safety and welfare. One such legislative regulation is found in Article 1306 of the Civil Code which allows the contracting parties to "establish such stipulations, clauses, terms and conditions as they may deem convenient, provided they are not contrary to law, morals, good customs, public order or public policy."
To reiterate, we fully agree with the Court of Appeals in holding that the compounded interest rate of 5% per month, is iniquitous and unconscionable. Being a void stipulation, it is deemed inexistent from the beginning. The debt is to be considered without the stipulation of the iniquitous and unconscionable interest rate. Accordingly, the legal interest of 12% per annum must be imposed in lieu of the excessive interest stipulated in the agreement, in line with our ruling in Ruiz v. Court of Appeals,26 thus:
The foregoing rates of interests and surcharges are in accord with Medel vs. Court of Appeals, Garcia vs. Court of Appeals, Bautista vs. Pilar Development Corporation, and the recent case of Spouses Solangon vs. Salazar. This Court invalidated a stipulated 5.5% per month or 66% per annum interest on a P500,000.00 loan in Medel and a 6% per month or 72% per annum interest on a P60,000.00 loan in Solangon for being excessive, iniquitous, unconscionable and exorbitant. In both cases, we reduced the interest rate to 12% per annum. We held that while the Usury Law has been suspended by Central Bank Circular No. 905, s. 1982, effective on January 1, 1983, and parties to a loan agreement have been given wide latitude to agree on any interest rate, still stipulated interest rates are illegal if they are unconscionable. Nothing in the said circular grants lenders carte blanche authority to raise interest rates to levels which will either enslave their borrowers or lead to a hemorrhaging of their assets. On the other hand, in Bautista vs. Pilar Development Corp., this Court upheld the validity of a 21% per annum interest on a P142,326.43 loan, and in Garcia vs. Court of Appeals, sustained the agreement of the parties to a 24% per annum interest on an P8,649,250.00 loan. It is on the basis of these cases that we reduce the 36% per annum interest to 12%. An interest of 12% per annum is deemed fair and reasonable. While it is true that this Court invalidated a much higher interest rate of 66% per annum in Medel and 72% in Solangon it has sustained the validity of a much lower interest rate of 21% in Bautista and 24% in Garcia. We still find the 36% per annum interest rate in the case at bar to be substantially greater than those upheld by this Court in the two (2) aforecited cases. (Emphasis supplied, citations omitted)
From the foregoing, it is clear that there is no unilateral alteration of the terms and conditions of the Kasulatan entered into by the parties. Surely, it is more consonant with justice that the subject interest rate be equitably reduced and the legal interest of 12% per annum is deemed fair and reasonable.27
x x x."