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Digest: Hernandez vs San Juan-Santos

G.R. No. 166470               August 7, 2009


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G.R. No. 169217



With the same facts in the ABS-CBN Ipaglaban mo episode: kakampi


Maria Lourdes San Juan Hernandez (or Lulu) was born on February 14, 1947 to the spouses Felix Hernandez and Maria San Juan Hernandez. Unfortunately, the latter died due to complications during childbirth. After Maria's death, Felix left Lulu in the care of her maternal uncle, Sotero C. San Juan.

Felix married Natividad Cruz. The union produced three children, petitioners Cecilio C. Hernandez, Ma. Victoria C. Hernandez-Sagun and Teresa C. Hernandez-Villa Abrille.

Meanwhile, as the only child of Maria and the sole testate heir of Sotero, Lulu inherited valuable real properties from the San Juan family (conservatively estimated at ₱50 million in 1997).

Lulu went to live with her father and his new family. She was then 10 years old and studying at La Consolacion College. However, due to her "violent personality," Lulu stopped schooling when she reached Grade 5.

Reaching the age of majority, Lulu was given full control of her estate. Nevertheless, because Lulu did not even finish her elementary education, Felix continued to exercise actual administration of Lulu’s properties. Upon Felix's death in 1993, petitioners took over the task of administering Lulu's properties.

Felix allegedly purchased one of Lulu’s properties for an undisclosed amount to develop the Marilou Subdivision.  In 1995, Ma. Victoria informed Lulu that her 11-hectare Montalban, Rizal property was under litigation. Thus, Lulu signed a special power of attorney (SPA) believing that she was authorizing Ma. Victoria to appear in court on her behalf when she was in fact unknowingly authorizing her half-sister to sell the said property to the Manila Electric Company for ₱18,206,400. Thereafter, Cecilio asked Lulu to authorize him to lease her 45-hectare property in Montalban, Rizal to Oxford Concrete Aggregates for ₱58,500 per month so that she could have a car and driver at her disposal.

Lulu sought the assistance of her maternal first cousin, respondent Jovita San Juan-Santos, after learning that petitioners had been dissipating her estate. She confided to Jovita that she was made to live in the basement and receiving a measly daily allowance of ₱400 for her food and medication. Respondent was appalled as Lulu was severely overweight, unkempt and smelled of urine. She later found out that Lulu was occupying a cramped room lit by a single fluorescent lamp without running water. Since she had not been given a proper toilet, Lulu urinated and defecated in the garden. Due to Lulu's poor hygiene, respondent brought her to several physicians for medical examination. Lulu was found to be afflicted with tuberculosis, rheumatism and diabetes from which she was suffering several complications.

Thereafter, the San Juan family demanded an inventory and accounting of Lulu’s estate from petitioners. However, the demand was ignored.

respondent filed a petition for guardianship in the Regional Trial Court (RTC). She alleged that Lulu was incapable of taking care of herself and managing her estate because she was of weak mind.

Medical specialists testified to explain the results of Lulu’s examinations which revealed the alarming state of her health. Not only was Lulu severely afflicted with diabetes mellitus and suffering from its complications, she also had an existing artheroselorotic cardiovascular disease (which was aggravated by her obesity). Furthermore, they unanimously opined that in view of Lulu’s intelligence level (which was below average) and fragile mental state, she would not be able to care for herself and self-administer her medications.

RTC concluded that, due to her weak physical and mental condition, there was a need to appoint a legal guardian over the person and property of Lulu

Petitioners claim that the opinions of Lulu's attending physicians regarding her mental state were inadmissible in evidence as they were not experts in psychiatry. Respondent therefore failed to prove that Lulu's illnesses rendered her an incompetent. She should have been presumed to be of sound mind and/or in full possession of her mental capacity. For this reason, Lulu should be allowed to live with them since under Articles 194 to 196 of the Family Code, legitimate brothers and sisters, whether half-blood or full-blood are required to support each other fully.


Whether or not opinions of Lulu's attending physicians are not admissible.


Under Section 50, Rule 103 of the Rules of Court, an ordinary witness may give his opinion on the mental sanity of a person with whom he is sufficiently acquainted. Lulu's attending physicians spoke and interacted with her. Such occasions allowed them to thoroughly observe her behavior and conclude that her intelligence level was below average and her mental stage below normal. Their opinions were admissible in evidence.

Furthermore, where the sanity of a person is at issue, expert opinion is not necessary. The observations of the trial judge coupled with evidence establishing the person's state of mental sanity will suffice. Here, the trial judge was given ample opportunity to observe Lulu personally when she testified before the RTC.

Under Section 2, Rule 92 of the Rules of Court, persons who, though of sound mind but by reason of age, disease, weak mind or other similar causes are incapable  of taking care of themselves and their property without outside aid, are considered as incompetents who may properly be placed under guardianship. The RTC and the CA both found that Lulu was incapable of taking care of herself and her properties without outside aid due to her ailments and weak mind. Thus, since determining whether or not Lulu is in fact an incompetent would require a reexamination of the evidence presented in the courts a quo, it undoubtedly involves questions of fact.

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