Principle of Abuse of Rights

The principle of abuse of rights is found under Articles 19, 20 and 21 of the Civil Code of the Philippines, which states that:

Art. 19. “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.”

Art. 20. “Every person who, contrary to law, wilfully or negligently causes damage to another, shall indemnify the latter for the same.”

Art. 21. “Any person who wilfully causes loss or injury to another in manner that is contrary to morals, good customs or public policy shall compensate the latter for the damage.”

The above articles, depart from the classical theory that “he who uses a right injures no one”. The modern tendency is to depart from the classical and traditional theory, and to grant indemnity for damages in cases where there is an abuse of rights, even when the act is not illicit. 

When a right is exercised in a manner which does not conform with the norms enshrined in Article 19 and results in damage to another, a legal wrong is thereby committed for which the wrongdoer must be held responsible. Although the requirements of each provision is different, these three (3) articles are all related to each other. As the eminent Civilist Senator Arturo Tolentino puts it: “With this article (Article 21), combined with articles 19 and 20, the scope of our law on civil wrongs has been very greatly broadened; it has become much more supple and adaptable than the Anglo-American law on torts. It is now difficult to conceive of any malevolent exercise of a right which could not be checked by the application of these articles” (Tolentino, 1 Civil Code of the Philippines 72).

There is however, no hard and fast rule which can be applied to determine whether or not the principle of abuse of rights may be invoked. The question of whether or not the principle of abuse of rights has been violated, resulting in damages under Articles 20 and 21 or other applicable provision of law, depends on the circumstances of each case. (Globe Mackay Cable and Radio Corporation vs. Court of Appeals, 176 SCRA 778 [1989]).

The elements of an abuse of right under Article 19 are the following: (1) There is a legal right or duty; (2) which is exercised in bad faith; (3) for the sole intent of prejudicing or injuring another. Article 20 speaks of the general sanction for all other provisions of law which do not especially provide for their own sanction (Tolentino, supra, p. 71). Thus, anyone who, whether willfully or negligently, in the exercise of his legal right or duty, causes damage to another, shall indemnify his victim for injuries suffered thereby. Article 21 deals with acts contra bonus mores, and has the following elements: 1) There is an act which is legal; 2) but which is contrary to morals, good custom, public order, or public policy; 3) and it is done with intent to injure. Thus, under any of these three (3) provisions of law, an act which causes injury to another may be made the basis for an award of damages.

Of the three articles, Art. 19 was intended to expand the concept of torts by granting adequate legal remedy for the untold number of moral wrongs which is impossible for human foresight to provide specifically in statutory law. If mere fault or negligence in one’s acts can make him liable for damages for injury caused thereby, with more reason should abuse or bad faith make him liable. The absence of good faith is essential to abuse of right. Good faith is an honest intention to abstain from taking any unconscientious advantage of another, even through the forms or technicalities of the law, together with an absence of all information or belief of fact which would render the transaction unconscientious. In business relations, it means good faith as understood by men of affairs.

While Article 19 may have been intended as a mere declaration of  principle, the “cardinal law on human conduct” expressed in said article has given rise to certain rules, e.g. that where a person exercises his rights but does so arbitrarily or unjustly or performs his duties in a manner that is not in keeping with honesty and good faith, he opens himself to liability. 

Article 19 of the Civil Code, sets certain standards which may be observed not only in the exercise of one’s rights but also in the performance of one’s duties. These standards are the following: to act with justice; to give everyone his due; and to observe honesty and good faith. The law, therefore, recognizes the primordial limitation on all rights: that in their exercise, the norms of human conduct set forth in Article 19 must be observed. A right, though by itself legal because recognized or granted by law as such, may nevertheless become the source of some illegality.