Friday, June 16, 2017

2% interest per month and 1% penalty per month are not unconscionable and inequitable. - G.R. No. 197861

G.R. No. 197861 June 5, 2013

"x x x.

The issue for resolution is whether the 23% p.a. interest rate and the 12% p.a. penalty charge on petitioners' P1,700,000.00 loan to which they agreed upon is excessive or unconscionable under the circumstances.

Parties are free to enter into agreements and stipulate as to the terms and conditions of their contract, but such freedom is not absolute. As Article 1306 of the Civil Code provides, "The contracting parties may 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." Hence, if the stipulations in the contract are valid, the parties thereto are bound to comply with them, since such contract is the law between the parties. In this case, petitioners and respondent bank agreed upon on a 23% p.a. interest rate on the P1.7 million loan. However, petitioners now contend that the interest rate of 23% p.a. imposed by respondent bank is excessive or unconscionable, invoking our ruling in Medel v. Court of Appeals,18 Toring v. Spouses Ganzon-Olan,19 and Chua v. Timan.20

We are not persuaded.

In Medel v. Court of Appeals,21 we found the stipulated interest rate of 66% p.a. or a 5.5% per month on a P500,000.00 loan excessive, unconscionable and exorbitant, hence, contrary to morals if not against the law and declared such stipulation void. In Toring v. Spouses Ganzon-Olan,22 the stipulated interest rates involved were 3% and 3.81% per month on a P10 million loan, which we find under the circumstances excessive and reduced the same to 1% per month. While in Chua v. Timan,23 where the stipulated interest rates were 7% and 5% a month, which are equivalent to 84% and 60% p.a., respectively, we had reduced the same to 1% per month or 12% p.a. We said that we need not unsettle the principle we had affirmed in a plethora of cases that stipulated interest rates of 3% per month and higher are excessive, unconscionable and exorbitant, hence, the stipulation was void for being contrary to morals.24

In this case, the interest rate agreed upon by the parties was only 23% p.a., or less than 2% per month, which are much lower than those interest rates agreed upon by the parties in the above-mentioned cases. Thus, there is no similarity of factual milieu for the application of those cases.

We do not consider the interest rate of 23% p.a. agreed upon by petitioners and respondent bank to be unconscionable.

In Villanueva v. Court of Appeals,25 where the issue raised was whether the 24% p.a. stipulated interest rate is unreasonable under the circumstances, we answered in the negative and held:

In Spouses Zacarias Bacolor and Catherine Bacolor v. Banco Filipino Savings and Mortgage Bank, Dagupan City Branch, this Court held that the interest rate of 24% per annum on a loan of P244,000.00, agreed upon by the parties, may not be considered as unconscionable and excessive. As such, the Court ruled that the borrowers cannot renege on their obligation to comply with what is incumbent upon them under the contract of loan as the said contract is the law between the parties and they are bound by its stipulations.

Also, in Garcia v. Court of Appeals, this Court sustained the agreement of the parties to a 24% per annum interest on an P8,649,250.00 loan finding the same to be reasonable and clearly evidenced by the amended credit line agreement entered into by the parties as well as two promissory notes executed by the borrower in favor of the lender.

Based on the above jurisprudence, the Court finds that the 24% per annum interest rate, provided for in the subject mortgage contracts for a loan of P225,000.00, may not be considered unconscionable. Moreover, considering that the mortgage agreement was freely entered into by both parties, the same is the law between them and they are bound to comply with the provisions contained therein.26

Clearly, jurisprudence establish that the 24% p.a. stipulated interest rate was not considered unconscionable, thus, the 23% p.a. interest rate imposed on petitioners' loan in this case can by no means be considered excessive or unconscionable.

We also do not find the stipulated 12% p.a. penalty charge excessive or unconscionable.

In Ruiz v. CA,27 we held:

The 1% surcharge on the principal loan for every month of default is valid. This surcharge or penalty stipulated in a loan agreement in case of default partakes of the nature of liquidated damages under Art. 2227 of the New Civil Code, and is separate and distinct from interest payment. Also referred to as a penalty clause, it is expressly recognized by law. It is an accessory undertaking to assume greater liability on the part of an obligor in case of breach of an obligation. The obligor would then be bound to pay the stipulated amount of indemnity without the necessity of proof on the existence and on the measure of damages caused by the breach. x x x28 And in Development Bank of the Philippines v. Family Foods Manufacturing Co., Ltd.,29 we held that:

x x x The enforcement of the penalty can be demanded by the creditor only when the non-performance is due to the fault or fraud of the debtor. The non-performance gives rise to the presumption of fault; in order to avoid the payment of the penalty, the debtor has the burden of proving an excuse - the failure of the performance was due to either force majeure or the acts of the creditor himself.30

Here, petitioners defaulted in the payment of their loan obligation with respondent bank and their contract provided for the payment of 12% p.a. penalty charge, and since there was no showing that petitioners' failure to perform their obligation was due to force majeure or to respondent bank's acts, petitioners cannot now back out on their obligation to pay the penalty charge. A contract is the law between the parties and they are bound by the stipulations therein.

x x x."