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Jurisprudence: G.R. No. 154469 December 6, 2006


G.R. No. 154469             December 6, 2006

RENATO D. CABILZO, respondent.



Before this Court is a Petition for Review on Certiorari, filed by petitioner Metropolitan Bank and Trust Company (Metrobank) seeking to reverse and set aside the Decision1 of the Court of Appeals dated 8 March 2002 and its Resolution dated 26 July 2002 affirming the Decision of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Manila, Branch 13 dated 4 September 1998. The dispositive portion of the Court of Appeals Decision reads:

WHEREFORE, the assailed decision dated September 4, 1998 is AFFIRMED with modifications (sic) that the awards for exemplary damages and attorney’s fees are hereby deleted.

Petitioner Metrobank is a banking institution duly organized and existing as such under Philippine laws.2

Respondent Renato D. Cabilzo (Cabilzo) was one of Metrobank’s clients who maintained a current account with Metrobank Pasong Tamo Branch.3

On 12 November 1994, Cabilzo issued a Metrobank Check No. 985988, payable to "CASH" and postdated on 24 November 1994 in the amount of One Thousand Pesos (P1,000.00). The check was drawn against Cabilzo’s Account with Metrobank Pasong Tamo Branch under Current Account No. 618044873-3 and was paid by Cabilzo to a certain Mr. Marquez, as his sales commission.4

Subsequently, the check was presented to Westmont Bank for payment. Westmont Bank, in turn, indorsed the check to Metrobank for appropriate clearing. After the entries thereon were examined, including the availability of funds and the authenticity of the signature of the drawer, Metrobank cleared the check for encashment in accordance with the Philippine Clearing House Corporation (PCHC) Rules.

On 16 November 1994, Cabilzo’s representative was at Metrobank Pasong Tamo Branch to make some transaction when he was asked by a bank personnel if Cabilzo had issued a check in the amount of P91,000.00 to which the former replied in the negative. On the afternoon of the same date, Cabilzo himself called Metrobank to reiterate that he did not issue a check in the amount of P91,000.00 and requested that the questioned check be returned to him for verification, to which Metrobank complied.5

Upon receipt of the check, Cabilzo discovered that Metrobank Check No. 985988 which he issued on 12 November 1994 in the amount of P1,000.00 was altered to P91,000.00 and the date 24 November 1994 was changed to 14 November 1994.6

Hence, Cabilzo demanded that Metrobank re-credit the amount of P91,000.00 to his account. Metrobank, however, refused reasoning that it has to refer the matter first to its Legal Division for appropriate action. Repeated verbal demands followed but Metrobank still failed to re-credit the amount of P91,000.00 to Cabilzo’s account.7

On 30 June 1995, Cabilzo, thru counsel, finally sent a letter-demand8 to Metrobank for the payment of P90,000.00, after deducting the original value of the check in the amount of P1,000.00. Such written demand notwithstanding, Metrobank still failed or refused to comply with its obligation.

Consequently, Cabilzo instituted a civil action for damages against Metrobank before the RTC of Manila, Branch 13. In his Complaint docketed as Civil Case No. 95-75651, Renato D. Cabilzo v. Metropolitan Bank and Trust Company, Cabilzo prayed that in addition to his claim for reimbursement, actual and moral damages plus costs of the suit be awarded in his favor.9

For its part, Metrobank countered that upon the receipt of the said check through the PCHC on 14 November 1994, it examined the genuineness and the authenticity of the drawer’s signature appearing thereon and the technical entries on the check including the amount in figures and in words to determine if there were alterations, erasures, superimpositions or intercalations thereon, but none was noted. After verifying the authenticity and propriety of the aforesaid entries, including the indorsement of the collecting bank located at the dorsal side of the check which stated that, "all prior indorsements and lack of indorsement guaranteed," Metrobank cleared the check.10

Anent thereto, Metrobank claimed that as a collecting bank and the last indorser, Westmont Bank should be held liable for the value of the check. Westmont Bank indorsed the check as the an unqualified indorser, by virtue of which it assumed the liability of a general indorser, and thus, among others, warranted that the instrument is genuine and in all respect what it purports to be.

In addition, Metrobank, in turn, claimed that Cabilzo was partly responsible in leaving spaces on the check, which, made the fraudulent insertion of the amount and figures thereon, possible. On account of his negligence in the preparation and issuance of the check, which according to Metrobank, was the proximate cause of the loss, Cabilzo cannot thereafter claim indemnity by virtue of the doctrine of equitable estoppel.

Thus, Metrobank demanded from Cabilzo, for payment in the amount of P100,000.00 which represents the cost of litigation and attorney’s fees, for allegedly bringing a frivolous and baseless suit. 11

On 19 April 1996, Metrobank filed a Third-Party Complaint12 against Westmont Bank on account of its unqualified indorsement stamped at the dorsal side of the check which the former relied upon in clearing what turned out to be a materially altered check.

Subsequently, a Motion to Dismiss13 the Third-Party Complaint was then filed by Westmont bank because another case involving the same cause of action was pending before a different court. The said case arose from an action for reimbursement filed by Metrobank before the Arbitration Committee of the PCHC against Westmont Bank, and now the subject of a Petition for Review before the RTC of Manila, Branch 19.

In an Order14 dated 4 February 1997, the trial court granted the Motion to Dismiss the Third-Party Complaint on the ground of litis pendentia.

On 4 September 1998, the RTC rendered a Decision15 in favor of Cabilzo and thereby ordered Metrobank to pay the sum of P90,000.00, the amount of the check. In stressing the fiduciary nature of the relationship between the bank and its clients and the negligence of the drawee bank in failing to detect an apparent alteration on the check, the trial court ordered for the payment of exemplary damages, attorney’s fees and cost of litigation. The dispositive portion of the Decision reads:

WHEREFORE, judgment is rendered ordering defendant Metropolitan Bank and Trust Company to pay plaintiff Renato Cabilzo the sum of P90,000 with legal interest of 6 percent per annum from November 16, 1994 until payment is made plus P20,000 attorney’s fees, exemplary damages of P50,000, and costs of the suit.16

Aggrieved, Metrobank appealed the adverse decision to the Court of Appeals reiterating its previous argument that as the last indorser, Westmont Bank shall bear the loss occasioned by the fraudulent alteration of the check. Elaborating, Metrobank maintained that by reason of its unqualified indorsement, Westmont Bank warranted that the check in question is genuine, valid and subsisting and that upon presentment the check shall be accepted according to its tenor.

Even more, Metrobank argued that in clearing the check, it was not remiss in the performance of its duty as the drawee bank, but rather, it exercised the highest degree of diligence in accordance with the generally accepted banking practice. It further insisted that the entries in the check were regular and authentic and alteration could not be determined even upon close examination.

In a Decision17 dated 8 March 2002, the Court of Appeals affirmed with modification the Decision of the court a quo, similarly finding Metrobank liable for the amount of the check, without prejudice, however, to the outcome of the case between Metrobank and Westmont Bank which was pending before another tribunal. The decretal portion of the Decision reads:

WHEREFORE, the assailed decision dated September 4, 1998 is AFFIRMED with the modifications (sic) that the awards for exemplary damages and attorney’s fees are hereby deleted.18

Similarly ill-fated was Metrobank’s Motion for Reconsideration which was also denied by the appellate court in its Resolution19 issued on 26 July 2002, for lack of merit.

Metrobank now poses before this Court this sole issue:


We resolve to deny the petition.

An alteration is said to be material if it changes the effect of the instrument. It means that an unauthorized change in an instrument that purports to modify in any respect the obligation of a party or an unauthorized addition of words or numbers or other change to an incomplete instrument relating to the obligation of a party.20 In other words, a material alteration is one which changes the items which are required to be stated under Section 1 of the Negotiable Instruments Law.

Section 1 of the Negotiable Instruments Law provides:

Section 1. Form of negotiable instruments. - An instrument to be negotiable must conform to the following requirements:

(a) It must be in writing and signed by the maker or drawer;

(b) Must contain an unconditional promise or order to pay a sum certain in money;

(c) Must be payable on demand or at a fixed determinable future time;

(d) Must be payable to order or to bearer; and

(e) Where the instrument is addressed to a drawee, he must be named or otherwise indicated therein with reasonable certainty.

Also pertinent is the following provision in the Negotiable Instrument Law which states:

Section 125. What constitutes material alteration. – Any alteration which changes:

(a) The date;

(b) The sum payable, either for principal or interest;

(c) The time or place of payment;

(d) The number or the relation of the parties;

(e) The medium or currency in which payment is to be made;

Or which adds a place of payment where no place of payment is specified, or any other change or addition which alters the effect of the instrument in any respect is a material alteration.

In the case at bar, the check was altered so that the amount was increased from P1,000.00 to P91,000.00 and the date was changed from 24 November 1994 to 14 November 1994. Apparently, since the entries altered were among those enumerated under Section 1 and 125, namely, the sum of money payable and the date of the check, the instant controversy therefore squarely falls within the purview of material alteration.

Now, having laid the premise that the present petition is a case of material alteration, it is now necessary for us to determine the effect of a materially altered instrument, as well as the rights and obligations of the parties thereunder. The following provision of the Negotiable Instrument Law will shed us some light in threshing out this issue:

Section 124. Alteration of instrument; effect of. – Where a negotiable instrument is materially altered without the assent of all parties liable thereon, it is avoided, except as against a party who has himself made, authorized, and assented to the alteration and subsequent indorsers.

But when the instrument has been materially altered and is in the hands of a holder in due course not a party to the alteration, he may enforce the payment thereof according to its original tenor. (Emphasis ours.)

Indubitably, Cabilzo was not the one who made nor authorized the alteration. Neither did he assent to the alteration by his express or implied acts. There is no showing that he failed to exercise such reasonable degree of diligence required of a prudent man which could have otherwise prevented the loss. As correctly ruled by the appellate court, Cabilzo was never remiss in the preparation and issuance of the check, and there were no indicia of evidence that would prove otherwise. Indeed, Cabilzo placed asterisks before and after the amount in words and figures in order to forewarn the subsequent holders that nothing follows before and after the amount indicated other than the one specified between the asterisks.

The degree of diligence required of a reasonable man in the exercise of his tasks and the performance of his duties has been faithfully complied with by Cabilzo. In fact, he was wary enough that he filled with asterisks the spaces between and after the amounts, not only those stated in words, but also those in numerical figures, in order to prevent any fraudulent insertion, but unfortunately, the check was still successfully altered, indorsed by the collecting bank, and cleared by the drawee bank, and encashed by the perpetrator of the fraud, to the damage and prejudice of Cabilzo.

Verily, Metrobank cannot lightly impute that Cabilzo was negligent and is therefore prevented from asserting his rights under the doctrine of equitable estoppel when the facts on record are bare of evidence to support such conclusion. The doctrine of equitable estoppel states that when one of the two innocent persons, each guiltless of any intentional or moral wrong, must suffer a loss, it must be borne by the one whose erroneous conduct, either by omission or commission, was the cause of injury.21 Metrobank’s reliance on this dictum, is misplaced. For one, Metrobank’s representation that it is an innocent party is flimsy and evidently, misleading. At the same time, Metrobank cannot asseverate that Cabilzo was negligent and this negligence was the proximate cause22 of the loss in the absence of even a scintilla proof to buttress such claim. Negligence is not presumed but must be proven by the one who alleges it.23

Undoubtedly, Cabilzo was an innocent party in this instant controversy. He was just an ordinary businessman who, in order to facilitate his business transactions, entrusted his money with a bank, not knowing that the latter would yield a substantial amount of his deposit to fraud, for which Cabilzo can never be faulted.

We never fail to stress the remarkable significance of a banking institution to commercial transactions, in particular, and to the country’s economy in general. The banking system is an indispensable institution in the modern world and plays a vital role in the economic life of every civilized nation. Whether as mere passive entities for the safekeeping and saving of money or as active instruments of business and commerce, banks have become an ubiquitous presence among the people, who have come to regard them with respect and even gratitude and, most of all, confidence.24

Thus, even the humble wage-earner does not hesitate to entrust his life's savings to the bank of his choice, knowing that they will be safe in its custody and will even earn some interest for him. The ordinary person, with equal faith, usually maintains a modest checking account for security and convenience in the settling of his monthly bills and the payment of ordinary expenses. As for a businessman like the respondent, the bank is a trusted and active associate that can help in the running of his affairs, not only in the form of loans when needed but more often in the conduct of their day-to-day transactions like the issuance or encashment of checks.25

In every case, the depositor expects the bank to treat his account with the utmost fidelity, whether such account consists only of a few hundred pesos or of millions. The bank must record every single transaction accurately, down to the last centavo, and as promptly as possible. This has to be done if the account is to reflect at any given time the amount of money the depositor can dispose of as he sees fit, confident that the bank will deliver it as and to whomever he directs.26

The point is that as a business affected with public interest and because of the nature of its functions, the bank is under obligation to treat the accounts of its depositors with meticulous care, always having in mind the fiduciary nature of their relationship. The appropriate degree of diligence required of a bank must be a high degree of diligence, if not the utmost diligence.27

In the present case, it is obvious that Metrobank was remiss in that duty and violated that relationship. As observed by the Court of Appeals, there are material alterations on the check that are visible to the naked eye. Thus:

x x x The number "1" in the date is clearly imposed on a white figure in the shape of the number "2". The appellant’s employees who examined the said check should have likewise been put on guard as to why at the end of the amount in words, i.e., after the word "ONLY", there are 4 asterisks, while at the beginning of the line or before said phrase, there is none, even as 4 asterisks have been placed before and after the word "CASH" in the space for payee. In addition, the 4 asterisks before the words "ONE THOUSAND PESOS ONLY" have noticeably been erased with typing correction paper, leaving white marks, over which the word "NINETY" was superimposed. The same can be said of the numeral "9" in the amount "91,000", which is superimposed over a whitish mark, obviously an erasure, in lieu of the asterisk which was deleted to insert the said figure. The appellant’s employees should have again noticed why only 2 asterisks were placed before the amount in figures, while 3 asterisks were placed after such amount. The word "NINETY" is also typed differently and with a lighter ink, when compared with the words "ONE THOUSAND PESOS ONLY." The letters of the word "NINETY" are likewise a little bigger when compared with the letters of the words "ONE THOUSAND PESOS ONLY".28

Surprisingly, however, Metrobank failed to detect the above alterations which could not escape the attention of even an ordinary person. This negligence was exacerbated by the fact that, as found by the trial court, the check in question was examined by the cash custodian whose functions do not include the examinations of checks indorsed for payment against drawer’s accounts.29 Obviously, the employee allowed by Metrobank to examine the check was not verse and competent to handle such duty. These factual findings of the trial court is conclusive upon this court especially when such findings was affirmed the appellate court.30

Apropos thereto, we need to reiterate that by the very nature of their work the degree of responsibility, care and trustworthiness expected of their employees and officials is far better than those of ordinary clerks and employees. Banks are expected to exercise the highest degree of diligence in the selection and supervision of their employees.31

In addition, the bank on which the check is drawn, known as the drawee bank, is under strict liability to pay to the order of the payee in accordance with the drawer’s instructions as reflected on the face and by the terms of the check. Payment made under materially altered instrument is not payment done in accordance with the instruction of the drawer.

When the drawee bank pays a materially altered check, it violates the terms of the check, as well as its duty to charge its client’s account only for bona fide disbursements he had made. Since the drawee bank, in the instant case, did not pay according to the original tenor of the instrument, as directed by the drawer, then it has no right to claim reimbursement from the drawer, much less, the right to deduct the erroneous payment it made from the drawer’s account which it was expected to treat with utmost fidelity.

Metrobank vigorously asserts that the entries in the check were carefully examined: The date of the instrument, the amount in words and figures, as well as the drawer’s signature, which after verification, were found to be proper and authentic and was thus cleared. We are not persuaded. Metrobank’s negligence consisted in the omission of that degree of diligence required of a bank owing to the fiduciary nature of its relationship with its client. Article 1173 of the Civil Code provides:

The fault or negligence of the obligor consists in the omission of that diligence which is required by the nature of the obligation and corresponds with the circumstances of the persons, of the time and of the place. x x x.

Beyond question, Metrobank failed to comply with the degree required by the nature of its business as provided by law and jurisprudence. If indeed it was not remiss in its obligation, then it would be inconceivable for it not to detect an evident alteration considering its vast knowledge and technical expertise in the intricacies of the banking business. This Court is not completely unaware of banks’ practices of employing devices and techniques in order to detect forgeries, insertions, intercalations, superimpositions and alterations in checks and other negotiable instruments so as to safeguard their authenticity and negotiability. Metrobank cannot now feign ignorance nor claim diligence; neither can it point its finger at the collecting bank, in order to evade liability.

Metrobank argues that Westmont Bank, as the collecting bank and the last indorser, shall bear the loss. Without ruling on the matter between the drawee bank and the collecting bank, which is already under the jurisdiction of another tribunal, we find that Metrobank cannot rely on such indorsement, in clearing the questioned check. The corollary liability of such indorsement, if any, is separate and independent from the liability of Metrobank to Cabilzo.

The reliance made by Metrobank on Westmont Bank’s indorsement is clearly inconsistent, if not totally offensive to the dictum that being impressed with public interest, banks should exercise the highest degree of diligence, if not utmost diligence in dealing with the accounts of its own clients. It owes the highest degree fidelity to its clients and should not therefore lightly rely on the judgment of other banks on occasions where its clients money were involve, no matter how small or substantial the amount at stake.

Metrobank’s contention that it relied on the strength of collecting bank’s indorsement may be merely a lame excuse to evade liability, or may be indeed an actual banking practice. In either case, such act constitutes a deplorable banking practice and could not be allowed by this Court bearing in mind that the confidence of public in general is of paramount importance in banking business.

What is even more deplorable is that, having been informed of the alteration, Metrobank did not immediately re-credit the amount that was erroneously debited from Cabilzo’s account but permitted a full blown litigation to push through, to the prejudice of its client. Anyway, Metrobank is not left with no recourse for it can still run after the one who made the alteration or with the collecting bank, which it had already done. It bears repeating that the records are bare of evidence to prove that Cabilzo was negligent. We find no justifiable reason therefore why Metrobank did not immediately reimburse his account. Such ineptness comes within the concept of wanton manner contemplated under the Civil Code which warrants the imposition of exemplary damages, "by way of example or correction for the public good," in the words of the law. It is expected that this ruling will serve as a stern warning in order to deter the repetition of similar acts of negligence, lest the confidence of the public in the banking system be further eroded. 32

WHEREFORE, premises considered, the instant Petition is DENIED. The Decision dated 8 March 2002 and the Resolution dated 26 July 2002 of the Court of Appeals are AFFIRMED with modification that exemplary damages in the amount of P50,000.00 be awarded. Costs against the petitioner.


Panganiban, C.J. (Chairperson), Ynares-Santiago, Austria-Martinez, and Callejo, Sr., JJ., concur.