In any case, the facts show no presence of fraud on the part of Asiatrust; therefore, the REM was not a sham
Even pushing further to say that the REM was executed by the spouses Lee to defraud creditors, the REM cannot be rescinded and shall, therefore, stand, as Asiatrust—the third party, in favor of which the REM was executed, and which subsequently foreclosed the subject properties—acted in good faith and without any badge of fraud. As a general rule, whether the person, against whom a judgment was made or some writ of attachment was issued, acted with or without fraud, so long as the third person who is in legal possession of the property in question did not act with fraud and in bad faith, an action for rescission cannot prosper. Art. 1385 of the Civil Code explicitly states this, thus:
Art. 1385. Rescission creates the obligation to return the things which were the object of the contract, together with their fruits, and the price with its interest; consequently, it can be carried out only when he who demands rescission can return whatever he may be obliged to restore.
Neither shall rescission take place when the things which are the object of the contract are legally in the possession of third persons who did not act in bad faith. (Emphasis Ours.)
As to who or which entity is in legal possession of a property, the registration in the Registry of Deeds of the subject property under the name of a third person indicates the legal possession of that person. In this case, Asiatrust is in the legal possession of the subject Antipolo properties after the titles under the name of Spouses Lee have been canceled, and new TCTs have been issued on April 20, 1999, under the name of Asiatrust. What is more, 12 title out of the 120 titles in the Antipolo properties in question have already been sold to different persons, which make them in legal possession of the properties. It is, thus, established that Asiatrust and the 12 other unnamed persons are in legal possession of the subject Antipolo properties; and it is imperative to prove that they legally took possession of them in good faith and without any badge of fraud.
Now, as to whether Asiatrust acted with fraud or bad faith, Bangkok Bank failed to present any clear and convincing evidence that would ascertain its existence.
Contracts in fraud of creditors are those executed with the intention to prejudice the rights of creditors. They should not be confused with those entered into without such mal-intent, even if, as a direct consequence, a creditor may suffer some damage. More so it is, when the allegation involves not only fraud on the part of the debtor, but also that of another creditor. In determining whether or not a certain conveying contract is fraudulent, what comes to mind first is the question of whether the conveyance was a bona fide transaction or a trick and contrivance to defeat creditors. Haste alone in the foreclosure of the mortgage does not constitute the existence of fraud. Considering that the totality of circumstances clearly manifests the want of fraud and bad faith on the part of the parties to the REM in question, consequently, the REM cannot be rescinded.
In this case, it is clearly established that there was a bona fide transaction between the spouses Lee and Asiatrust that necessitated the negotiations resulting from the former’s default in the payment of its obligations; and which brought about the execution of the REM to secure their pre-existing obligations. Particularly on the part of Asiatrust, the testimonies of Shirley Benedicto, its Vice-President, who was part of the bank’s account management group tasked to ensure the proper management of loans from its inception up to its collection, and of Atty. Neriza San Juan, the bank’s former Vice-President, and Head of its Credit Support Services and Legal Services Groups, amply proved the existence of good faith and dismissed the allegation of fraud. Asiatrust was able to establish (1) the existence of a loan agreement through a loan facility/credit line between Asiatrust and MDEC since July 25, 1996, which was guaranteed by the Lee family, including Samuel; (2) the advances made by MDEC throughout 1997, which amounted to an aggregate sum of PhP 31,000,000; (3) the default in payment of MDEC on its maturing loans; and (4) the negotiations, which took place between Asiatrust and Samuel on behalf of MDEC that led, in December 1997, to the agreement for Samuel to mortgage the subject Antipolo properties to secure the defaulting loan and the loans, which were yet to mature. And as the last advances made by MDEC matured on February 20, 1998, it was just timely and appropriate for Asiatrust to foreclose the subject properties on April 15, 1998 in order to ensure that it is paid of the obligations, which MDEC owed to it. In this case, Asiatrust was left with only one clear and practicable means by which it could be paid of MDEC’s obligations, i.e., by foreclosing the mortgaged properties. After all, “[t]he only right of a mortgagee in case of non-payment of a debt secured by mortgage would be to foreclose the mortgage and have the encumbered property sold to satisfy the outstanding indebtedness.”
Conversely, Asiatrust did not sleep on its rights as a mortgage creditor of MDEC by foreclosing the mortgage on the spouses Lee’s Antipolo properties. On the contrary, it is odd but worth noting that Bangkok Bank never acted on its rights as creditor at the soonest possible time. It could have asserted it rights as creditor at the time when the Lee family’s corporations started to default in their payments of the loans as early as October 1997. When Bangkok Bank finally instituted an action against the Lee family on March 12, 1998 to collect the outstanding obligations of MDEC and MHI, a writ of preliminary attachment was issued by the Makati RTC in the same month covering the properties of the Lee family, including the subject Antipolo properties. And while enforcing the said writ, Bangkok Bank discovered the existing REM that had already been annotated on the titles of the subject Antipolo properties. But Bangkok Bank did nothing upon its knowledge and discovery. Worse, even at the time of the foreclosure and the redemption period, or until April 30, 1999, Bangkok Bank likewise did not act on the alleged fraudulent execution of the REM; nor did it redeem the subject properties. Rather, it was only on July 20, 1999 that Bangkok Bank seems to have belatedly realized that the subject Antipolo properties could properly be another means by which it could be paid of the defaulting obligations of MDEC and MHI. Interestingly, even on the elevation of this case to Us, Bangkok Bank’s counsel had to move for four extensions, totaling to 52 days within which to file a comment on the instant petition, and has been warned for it. Asiatrust cannot be faulted for acting with prudence, in good faith, and without any badge of fraud in the creation of the REM and in the foreclosure of the mortgage to ensure the satisfaction of the debts owed to it by MDEC. Bangkok Bank should have likewise done so at the earliest possible opportunity.
Furthermore, Asiatrust, in good faith, conducted the necessary diligence and meticulousness expected of it. During cross-examination, Atty. San Juan established that when the spouses Lee offered the subject Antipolo properties as collateral, Asiatrust had them appraised and required the spouses Lee to submit a photocopy of the titles, location map, and the relevant tax declarations, which was forwarded to its Appraisal Team. She further explained that credit investigation is a continuing annual process since the bank considers the market information in connection with the account of the borrower. Indeed:
The mortgagee has a right to rely in good faith on what appears on the certificate of title of the mortgagor to the property given as security and in the absence of anything to excite suspicion, he is under no obligation to look beyond the certificate and investigate the title of the mortgagor appearing on the fact of the certificate. Accordingly, the right or lien of an innocent mortgagee for value upon the mortgaged property must be respected and protected, even if the mortgagor obtained his title through fraud. The remedy of the persons prejudiced is to bring an action for damages against the person who caused the fraud x x x.