Metrobank vs Cabilzo (510 SCRA 259)

Metropolitan Bank and Trust Company vs Cabilzo
510 SCRA 259 [G.R. No. 154469 December 6, 2006

Facts: Petitioner Metrobank is a banking institution duly organized and existing as such under Philippine laws. Respondent Renato D. Cabilzo (Cabilzo) was one of Metrobank’s clients who maintained a current account with Metrobank Pasong Tamo Branch. 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 (P 1,000.00). 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. 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 P 91,000.00 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 P 91,000.00 and requested that the questioned check be returned to him for verification, to which Metrobank complied. 1,000.00 was altered to P Upon receipt of the check, Cabilzo discovered that Metrobank Check No. 985988 which he issued on 12 November 1994 in the amount of P 91,000.00 and the date 24 November 1994 was changed to 14 November 1994.

Issue: Whether or not the alteration made in the subject check is a material alteration.

Held: Yes. 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.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 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 P 1,000.00 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, assented to the alteration and subsequent indorsers .  and 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. 

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. 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 cause 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.

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. 


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