Rutter v. Esteban, 93 Phil 68 (1953)
On 20 August 1941, Royal L. Rutter sold to Placido J. Esteban 2 parcels of land situated in the City of Manila. To secure the payment of said balance of P4,800, a first mortgage over the same parcels of land has been constituted in favor of Rutter. The deed of sale having been registered, a new title was issued in favor of Placido J. Esteban with the mortgage duly annotated on the back thereof. Esteban failed to pay the two installments as agreed upon, as well as the interest that had accrued thereon, and so on 2 August 1949, Rutter instituted an action in the Court of First Instance (CFI) Manila to recover the balance due, the interest due thereon, and the attorney's fees stipulated in the contract. The complaint also contains a prayer for the sale of the properties mortgaged in accordance with law. Esteban admitted averments of the complaint but set up defense on the moratorium clause embodied in RA 342 (approved 26 July 1948), allowing a war sufferer 8 years from the settlement of his claim by the Philippine War Damage Commission. After a motion for summary judgment has been presented by Esteban, and the requisite evidence submitted covering the relevant facts, the court rendered judgment dismissing the complaint holding that the obligation which Rutter seeks to enforce is not yet demandable under the moratorium law. Rutter filed a motion for reconsideration wherein he raised for the first time the constitutionality of the moratorium law, but the motion was denied. Rutter appealed.
Whether Republic Act 342 is unconstitutional for being violative of the constitutional provision forbidding the impairment of the obligation of contracts.
The decision was appealed from will be reversed, without pronouncement as to costs. Statutes declaring a moratorium on the enforcement of monetary obligations are not of recent enactment. These moratorium laws are not new. Moratorium laws have been adopted "during times of financial distress, especially when incident to, or caused by, a war." The Moratorium Law is a valid exercise by the State of its police power, being an emergency measure. Although conceding that the obligations of the contract were impaired, the impairment was within the police power of the State as that power was called into exercise by the public economic emergency which the legislature had found to exist. Not only is the constitutional provision (contract clause) qualified by the measure of control which the State retains over remedial processes, but the State also continues to possess authority to safeguard the vital interest of its people. It does not matter that legislation appropriate to that end "has the result of modifying or abrogating contracts already in effect." Not only are existing laws read into contracts in order to fix obligations as between the parties, but the reservation of essential attributes of sovereign power is also read into contracts as a postulate of the legal order. The policy of protecting contracts against impairment presupposes the maintenance of a government by virtue of which contractual relations are worth while, a government which retains adequate authority to secure the peace and good order of society. Some of these laws, however, have also been declared "void as to contracts made before their passage where the suspension of remedies prescribed is indefinite or unreasonable in duration." The true test, therefore, of the constitutionality of a moratorium statute lies in the determination of the period of suspension of the remedy. It is required that such suspension be definite and reasonable, otherwise it would be violative of the constitution. Herein, obligations had been pending since 1945 as a result of the issuance of Executive Orders 25 and 32 and at present their enforcement is still inhibited because of the enactment of Republic Act 342 and would continue to be unenforceable during the 8-year period granted to prewar debtors to afford them an opportunity to rehabilitate themselves, which in plain language means that the creditors would have to observe a vigil of at least 12 years before they could effect a liquidation of their investment dating as far back as 1941. This period seems to be unreasonable, if not oppressive. While the purpose of Congress is plausible, and should be commended, the relief accorded works injustice to creditors who are practically left at the mercy of the debtors. Their hope to effect collection becomes extremely remote, more so if the credits are unsecured. And the injustice is more patent when, under the law, the debtor is not even required to pay interest during the operation of the relief. Thus, the Court declared that the continued operation and enforcement of Republic Act 342 at the present time is unreasonable and oppressive, and should not be prolonged a minute longer, and the same should be declared null and void and without effect. This also holds true as regards Executive Orders 25 and 32, considering that said Orders contain no limitation whatsoever in point of time as regards the suspension of the enforcement and effectivity of monetary obligations. This pronouncement is most especially needed in view of the revival clause embodied in said Act if and when it is declared unconstitutional or invalid