Clara Homeowners' Association v. Spouses Gaston, GR 141961, 23 January 2002
Spouses Victor Ma. Gaston and Lydia M. Gaston were residents of San Jose Avenue, Sta. Clara
Subdivision, Mandalagan, Bacolod City. They purchased their lots in the said subdivision sometime in 1974, and at the time of purchase, there was no mention or requirement of membership in any homeowner association. From that time on, they have remained non-members of SCHA. They also stated that an arrangement was made wherein homeowners who were non-members of the association were issued "non-member gate pass stickers for their vehicles for identification by the security guards manning the subdivision entrances and exits. This arrangement remained undisturbed until sometime in the middle of March 1998, when SCHA disseminated a board resolution which decreed that only its members in good standing were to be issued stickers for use in their vehicles. Thereafter, on three separate incidents, Victor M. Gaston, the son of the spouses Gaston who lives with them, was required by the guards on duty employed by SCHA to show his driver license as a prerequisite to his entrance to the subdivision and to his residence therein despite their knowing him personally and the exact location of his residence.
On 29 March 1998, Victor Ma. Gaston was himself prevented from entering the subdivision and proceeding to his residential abode when security guards Roger Capillo and a "John Doe" lowered the steel bar of the KAMETAL gate of the subdivision and demanded from him his driver license for identification. On 1 April 1998, Spouses Victor Ma. Gaston and Lydia M. Gaston filed a complaint for damages with preliminary injunction/preliminary mandatory injunction and temporary restraining order before the Regional Trial Court in Negros Occidental at Bacolod City against Santa Clara Homeowners Association (SCHA) thru its Board of Directors, namely: Arneil Chua, Luis Sarrosa, Jocelyn Garcia, Ma. Milagros Vargas, Lorenzo Lacson, Ernesto Piccio, Dindo Ilagan, Danilo Gamboa, Jr., Rizza de la Rama and Security Guard Capillo and John Do, and Santa Clara Estate, Incorporated (Civil Case 98-10217, RTC- Branch 49, Bacolod City); alleging that the acts of SCHA, et al., done in the presence of other subdivision owners had caused the spouses Gaston to suffer moral damage. On 8 April 1998, SCHA, et al. filed a motion to dismiss arguing that the trial court had no jurisdiction over the case as it involved an intra- corporate dispute between SCHA and its members pursuant to Republic Act 580, as amended by Executive Orders 535 and 90, much less, to declare as null and void the subject resolution of the board of directors of SCHA, the proper forum being the Home insurance and Guaranty Corporation (HIGC). To support their claim of intra-corporate controversy, SCHA, et al. stated that the Articles of Incorporation of SCHA, which was duly approved by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) on 4 October 1973, provides "that the association shall be a non-stock corporation with all homeowners of Sta. Clara constituting its membership and that its by-laws contains a provision that "all real estate owners in Sta. Clara Subdivision automatically becomes members of the association among others. On 6 July 1998, the lower court resolved to deny SCHA et al.'s motion to dismiss, finding that there existed no intra-corporate controversy since the Spouses Gaston alleged that they had never joined the association. On 18 July 1998, SCHA, et al. submitted a Motion for Reconsideration, adding lack of cause of action as ground for the dismissal of the case. On 17 August 1998, the trial court denied the said motion without however ruling on the additional ground of lack of cause of action. On 18 August 1998, SCHA, et al. filed a motion to dismiss its motion to dismiss on ground of lack of cause of action. On 8 September 1998, the trial court issued an order denying the motion. On 24 September 1998, SCHA. et al. elevated the matter to the Court of Appeals via a Petition for Certiorari. On 31 August 1999, the Court of Appeals dismissed the Petition and ruled that the RTC had jurisdiction over the dispute. The appellate court likewise denied SCHA, et al. motion for reconsideration in a resolution dated 11 February 2000. SCHA, et al. filed the petition for review.
Whether the Spouses Gaston are members of the SCHA
No, spouses Gaston are not members of the SCHA. The constitutionally guaranteed freedom of
association includes the freedom not to associate. The right to choose with whom one will associate oneself is the very foundation and essence of that partnership. It should be noted that the provision guarantees the right to form an association. It does not include the right to compel others to form or join one. Homeowners cannot be compelled to become members of a homeowners’ association by the simple expedient of including them in its Articles of Incorporation and By-laws without their express or implied consent; Memberships in homeowners’ associations may be acquired in various ways often through deeds of sale, Torrens certificates or other forms of evidence of property ownership. True, it may be to the mutual advantage of lot owners in a subdivision to band themselves together to promote their common welfare. But that is possible only if the owners voluntarily agree, directly or indirectly, to become members of the association. True also, memberships in homeowners’ associations may be acquired in various ways—often through deeds of sale, Torrens certificates or other forms of evidence of property ownership. In the present case, however, other than the said Articles of Incorporation and By-laws, there is no showing that private respondents have agreed to be SCHA members