Torts and Damages: Humiliation

What is the remedy for humiliation

Query: Can an aggrieved party humiliate a mere suspect and evade liability?

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 following case exemplifies

GUERRERO; December 28, 1979

Certiorari from CA’s decision to grant P75k, P25k and P5k to Espino for moral damages, exemplary damages and atty’s



Espino is a graduate Mechanical Engineer from U.P. Class 1950, employed as an executive of Proctor & Gamble Phils., Inc., a corporate manager incharge of motoring and warehousing therein; honorably discharged from the Philippine Army in 1946; a Philippine government pensionado of the United States for six months; member of the Philippine Veterans Legion; author of articles published in the Manila Sunday Times and Philippines Free Press; member of the Knights of Columbus, Council No. 3713; son of the late Jose Maria Espino, retired Minister, Department of Foreign Affairs at the Philippine Embassy, Washington.


One morning in 1970, he and his wife and their two daughters went to shop at South Supermarket (owned by Grand Union) in Makati. While his wife was shopping for groceries, he went around the store and found a cylindrical “rat tail” file that he had wanted to buy for his hobby. Because it was small, he didn’t put it in the grocery cart because it might fall and get lost. He instead held it in his hand. While still shopping, he and his wife ran into his aunt’s maid. While they were talking he stuck the file in his breast pocket, with a good part of the merchandise exposed.


He paid for the items in his wife’s cart; but he forgot about the file in his pocket. On their way out, the guard stopped him and told him he hadn’t paid for the file. He apologized and said he had forgotten. He started towards the cashier to pay; but the guard stopped him and said they were to go to the back of the supermarket. There, a report was made, where Espino said that he just forgot that he placed it in his pocket while talking to the maid and his wife. He was then brought to the front of the grocery, near the cashiers to a Mrs. Fandino. It was around 9am and the many people were at the store.


Fandino read the report and remarked: “Ano,nakaw na naman ito.” Espino said he was going to pay for it. Fandino replied: “That is all they say, the people whom we cause not paying for the goods say . . . They all intended to pay for the things that are found to them.”


Espino objected, saying he was a regular customer of the supermarket. Espino took out a P5 bill to pay for the P3.85 file. Fandino reached over and took the P5 bill and said it was a fine. Espino and wife objected and said that he was not a common criminal. Fandino said it was a reward for guards who apprehend pilferers. People started milling around and stared at Espino. He was directed to get in line at the cashier to pay for the file. All the time the people were staring at him. He was totally embarrassed. – After paying he and his wife walked out quickly. He thought about going back that night to throw stones at the supermarket; but decided to file a case. The CFI dismissed. CA awarded him damages.



Whether or Not  Espino is entitled to damages for the humiliation he experienced at the supermarket




YES – The false accusation charged against the private respondent after detaining and interrogating him by the uniformed guards and the mode and manner in which he was subjected, shouting at him, imposing upon him a fine, threatening to call the police and in the presence and hearing of many people at the Supermarket which brought and caused him humiliation and embarrassment, sufficiently rendered the petitioners liable for damages under Articles 19 and 21 in relation to Article 2219 of the Civil Code. Petitioners wilfully caused loss or injury to private respondent in a manner that was contrary to morals, good customs or public policy. It is against morals, good customs and public policy to humiliate, embarrass and degrade the dignity of a person. Everyone must respect the dignity, personality, privacy and peace of mind of his neighbors and other persons (Article 26, Civil Code). And one must act with justice, give everyone his due and observe honesty and good faith (Article 19, Civil Code). – While no proof of pecuniary loss is necessary in order that moral, nominal, temperate, liquidated or exemplary damages may be adjudicated, the assessment of such damages, except liquidated ones, is left to the discretion of the court, according to the circumstances of each case (Art. 2216, New Civil Code). The whole incident that befell respondent had arisen in such a manner that was created unwittingly by his own act of forgetting to pay for the file. It was his forgetfulness in checking out the item and paying for it that started the chain of events which led to his embarrassment and humiliation, thereby causing him mental anguish, wounded feelings and serious anxiety. Yet, private respondent’s act of omission contributed to the occurrence of his injury or loss and such contributory negligence is a factor which may reduce the damages that private respondent may recover (Art. 2214, New Civil Code). Moreover, that many people were present and they saw and heard the ensuing interrogation and altercation appears to be simply a matter of coincidence in a supermarket which is a public place and the crowd of onlookers, hearers or bystanders was not deliberately sought or called by management to witness private respondent’s predicament. The Court does not believe that private respondent was intentionally paraded in order to humiliate or embarrass him because petitioner’s business depended for its success and patronage the good will of the buying public which can only be preserved and promoted by good public relations.


Petition denied. CA modified: moral damages = P5000; atty’s fees = P2000. no exemplary damages.

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.