G.R. No. 157039             October 1, 2004
PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, appellee,
JOSEFINA M. DIMALANTA, appellant.
D E C I S I O N
This is an appeal from the decision of the Regional Trial Court of Caloocan City, Branch 121, in Criminal Case No. C-58083 (99), which disposed of the case thus:
WHEREFORE, premises considered, this Court finds accused JOSEFINA M. DIMALANTA GUILTY beyond reasonable doubt of the crime of ESTAFA and sentences her to suffer the penalty of imprisonment of 30 years of RECLUSION PERPETUA and to pay the private complainant Elvira D. Abarca the sum of P383,826.00.
On November 10, 1999, appellant was charged with Estafa under Article 315, paragraph 2 (d) of the Revised Penal Code, as amended by Presidential Decree No. 818, in an Information which reads:
That sometime during the month of October, 1998 in Caloocan City, MM. and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the above-named accused, after misrepresentation that she has more than enough fund, defrauded and deceived one, ELVIRA D. ABARCA in the following manner, to wit: said accused purchased and received assorted jewelries from herein complainant in the total amount of P408,826.00 and in payment thereof, accused simultaneously issued the following Panasaid [should read: Panasia] Banking, Inc. checks, to wit:
|0002598||Nov. 30, 1998||P 37,166.00|
|0020952||Dec. 15, 1998||37,166.00|
|0020953||Dec. 31, 1998||37,166.00|
|0020954||Jan. 15, 1999||37,166.00|
|0020956||Jan. 31, 1999||37,166.00|
|0020957||Feb. 15, 1999||37,166.00|
|0020958||Feb. 28, 1999||37,166.00|
|0020959||Mar. 15, 1999||37,166.00|
|0020960||Mar. 31, 1999||37,166.00|
|0020961||Apr. 15, 1999||37,166.00|
|0020962||Apr. 30, 1999||37,166.00|
when said accused knew fully well that at the time the said checks were not covered with sufficient funds in said bank and would not have such fund even on the date stated on the faces thereof, and when the said checks were presented to the drawee bank for encashment, the same were dishonored for the reason "ACCOUNT CLOSED" and despite due notice as required by Republic Act 4885 and further amended by PD 818 and despite repeated demands, did then and there willfully, unlawfully and feloniously refuse and fail to make good her checks and still refused and fails to do so, to the damage and prejudice of herein complainant ELVIRA D. ABARCA in the aforestated amount of P408,826.00.
Contrary to law.2
On January 24, 2000, appellant, assisted by counsel de oficio, was arraigned. She entered a plea of "not guilty."3 Trial on the merits followed in due course.
The evidence for the prosecution disclosed that in the first week of October 1998, appellant, who was then employed at the Caloocan City Engineer’s Office, called up complainant Elvira D. Abarca on the telephone to express her desire to purchase jewelry. Complainant went to appellant’s house, located at No. 89 P. Jacinto Street, Caloocan City, where the latter purchased twelve pairs of jewelry. In payment thereof, appellant issued twelve postdated checks with the representation that the same will be sufficiently funded on their respective maturity dates.4
The first check issued by appellant was honored and paid by the drawee bank. However, the eleven checks, which are enumerated in the Information, were all returned unpaid by the drawee bank for the reason that appellant’s account was closed.5 Thus, on May 28, 1999, complainant’s counsel wrote a letter to appellant informing her of the dishonor of the eleven checks and demanding payment of the value of the checks within five banking days from receipt thereof.6 The letter was sent to appellant by registered mail on June 7, 1999.7
Appellant failed to pay the value of the checks despite the lapse of the five-day period contained in the demand letter. On June 21, 1999, appellant filed with the Prosecutor’s Office a complaint charging appellant with the crimes of Estafa and Violation of Batas Pambansa Blg. 22.8
In her defense, appellant denied that she purchased jewelry from complainant, saying that she could not afford them. She alleged that it was complainant who approached her asking for help in selling jewelry. In turn, appellant asked her friend, Levinia Maranan, to look for buyers for the jewelry. Appellant and complainant agreed that Maranan will sell the jewelry and, upon the latter’s confirmation that the items had been sold, appellant shall deliver to complainant the postdated checks in payment therefor. They further agreed that the unsold pieces of jewelry shall be returned to complainant.9
In the middle of September 1998, complainant delivered to appellant the pieces of jewelry to be sold, which were then picked up by Maranan. After one week, appellant issued to complainant postdated checks representing the purchase price of the sold jewelry, with the understanding that Maranan will fund the same. Maranan was able to remit to appellant money to cover the first check, hence it was honored by the drawee bank.10
Maranan failed to fund the second check. In order to cover its amount, appellant gave complainant P25,000.00 out of her own money as partial satisfaction. Subsequently, Maranan, who had apparently encountered financial problems, went into hiding. As a consequence, the rest of appellant’s checks were dishonored.11
On October 16, 2002, the trial court rendered the appealed decision convicting appellant of Estafa.
In the instant appeal, appellant alleged that the Regional Trial Court committed reversible errors:
IN FINDING APPELLANT JOSEFINA M. DIMALANTA GUILTY BEYOND REASONABLE DOUBT OF THE CRIME OF ESTAFA;
IN SENTENCING HER TO SUFFER THE PENALTY OF IMPRISONMENT OF 30 YEARS OF RECLUSION PERPETUA; AND
IN ORDERING HER TO PAY COMPLAINANT ABARCA THE SUM OF P383,826.00.12
The Office of the Solicitor General thereafter filed a Manifestation and Motion in Lieu of Appellee’s Brief, recommending that a judgment of acquittal be rendered in Criminal Case No. C-58083 (99) without prejudice to appellant’s civil liability as found by the trial court.13
The appeal has merit.
Appellant was charged with and convicted of Estafa under Article 315, paragraph 2 (d) of the Revised Penal Code, as amended by Republic Act No. 4885, defined as follows:
2. By means of any of the following false pretenses or fraudulent acts executed prior to or simultaneously with the commission of the fraud:
x x x           x x x           x x x.
(d) By postdating a check, or issuing a check in payment of an obligation when the offender had no funds in the bank, or his funds deposited therein were not sufficient to cover the amount of the check. The failure of the drawer of the check to deposit the amount necessary to cover his check within three (3) days from receipt of notice from the bank and/or the payee or holder that said check has been dishonored for lack or insufficiency of funds shall be prima facie evidence of deceit constituting false pretense or fraudulent act.
x x x           x x x           x x x.
Presidential Decree No. 818 amended Article 315 of the Revised Penal Code insofar as the penalties for felonies under paragraph 2 (d) are concerned, viz:
SECTION 1. Any person who shall defraud another by means of false pretenses or fraudulent acts as defined in paragraph 2(d) of Article 315 of the Revised Penal Code, as amended by Republic Act No. 4885, shall be punished by:
1st. The penalty of reclusión temporal if the amount of the fraud is over 12,000 pesos but does not exceed 22,000 pesos, and if such amount exceeds the latter sum, the penalty provided in this paragraph shall be imposed in its maximum period, adding one year for each additional 10,000 pesos but the total penalty which may be imposed shall in no case exceed thirty years. In such cases, and in connection with the accessory penalties which may be imposed under the Revised Penal Code, the penalty shall be termed reclusión perpetua;
2nd. The penalty of prisión mayor in its maximum period, if the amount of the fraud is over 6,000 pesos but does not exceed 12,000 pesos;
3rd. The penalty of prisión mayor in its medium period, if such amount is over 200 pesos but does not exceed 6,000 pesos; and
4th. By prisión mayor in its minimum period, if such amount does not exceed 200 pesos.
The elements of this form of Estafa are: (1) postdating or issuing a check in payment of an obligation contracted at the time the check was issued; (2) lack of sufficient funds to cover the check; (3) knowledge on the part of the offender of such circumstances; and (4) damage to the complainant.14
Damage and deceit are essential elements of the offense and must be established with satisfactory proof to warrant conviction. The false pretense or fraudulent act must be committed prior to or simultaneously with the issuance of the bad check.15 Thus, the drawer of the dishonored check is given three days from receipt of the notice of dishonor to cover the amount of the check. Otherwise a prima facie presumption of deceit arises.16
In the case at bar, the prosecution failed to establish beyond a shadow of a doubt that appellant employed deceit. Its evidence was overcome by the defense’s proof that the pieces of jewelry were not purchased by appellant for her own use; rather the same were merely given to her for resale. This much is admitted by complainant, to wit:
Q. Is it not a fact, Madam Witness, that it was your agreement with Mrs. Dimalanta that these jewelries were subject of a reselling, that she will sell them?
A. Yes, sir.
Q. You were very aware of that?
A. Yes, sir.17
In point of fact, appellant was able to show that she was merely requested by complainant to assist in the sale of the jewelry. In her desire to help, she was able to convince Levinia Maranan to dispose of the items. Appellant further testified that the checks she issued to complainant were to be funded by Maranan everytime she was able to sell pieces of jewelry.
Significantly, the Office of the Solicitor General’s own findings sustain appellant’s position. Thus, in its Manifestation and Motion in lieu of Appellee’s Brief wherein it joined the prayer for appellant’s acquittal, it made the following observations:
This admission lends credence to the claim of appellant that she subsequently delivered the jewelry to Maranan. It was only after notice from Maranan that the jewelry had been sold on installment that appellant issued the postdated checks. The issuance of the checks was merely to facilitate collection by Abarca of payments due. Thus, the checks were not the efficient cause of the defraudation. The bad checks were not issued prior to or simultaneous with the act of fraud, but rather, for a pre-existing obligation. This fact is evidenced by Abarca’s own testimony that appellant signed a piece of paper acknowledging receipt of the jewelry, the individual items of which were listed therein. Abarca went on to say that she no longer had the receipt signed by appellant, which was why she had to rely on another list on a pink slip of paper during her testimony in court (TSN, April 23, 2001, p. 4). If indeed appellant issued the postdated checks as payment for the jewelry on the same occasion that the said jewelry were delivered, why then would she need to sign a receipt for the same? Moreover, why was the said receipt no longer in the possession of Abarca? It is entirely possible that Abarca surrendered the receipt upon the subsequent delivery of the checks to her by appellant.
x x x           x x x           x x x.
Thus, even assuming that the checks were indeed issued simultaneously with the delivery of the jewelry as Abarca claims, she was not induced to part with the jewelry because of the checks. Abarca admitted that she knew that appellant was just a secretary at the Caloocan City Hall and that the latter was merely renting the place where she was residing. These facts tend to show that Abarca was aware of the financial status of appellant, that is, that the latter could not afford the P408,826.00-price of the jewelry. Consequently, Abarca must have likewise known at the time the checks were issued that appellant had no money of her own to fund the checks on their maturity. She was well aware that the jewelry were to be sold by appellant and that the proceeds of the sale would be deposited by the latter in her current account to fund the checks. It was a business arrangement she entered into with appellant whereby the latter would assist her in selling the jewelry. Abarca had been in the business of buying and selling jewelry for around ten years already. Abarca was thus fully aware of the conditions, advantages and disadvantages of the arrangement and cannot now allege to be the victim of deceit.18
In effect, therefore, appellant issued the checks as evidence of indebtedness to cover the value of the jewelry. It has been ruled in this connection that a drawer who issues a check as security or evidence of investment is not liable for Estafa.19
Furthermore, we find that appellant acted in good faith during the transaction. After the first check was dishonored, she exerted best efforts to make good the value of the check, albeit only to the extent of P25,000.00. Good faith is a defense to a charge of Estafa by postdating a check. This may be manifested by appellant’s act of offering to make arrangements with complainant as to the manner of payment.20
In the recent case of People v. Ojeda, et al.,21 it was held:
The prosecution failed to prove deceit in this case. The prima facie presumption of deceit was successfully rebutted by appellant’s evidence of good faith, a defense in estafa by postdating a check. Good faith may be demonstrated, for instance, by a debtor’s offer to arrange a payment scheme with his creditor. In this case, the debtor not only made arrangements for payment; as complainant herself categorically stated, the debtor-appellant fully paid the entire amount of the dishonored checks.
It must be noted that our Revised Penal Code was enacted to penalize unlawful acts accompanied by evil intent denominated as crimes mala in se. The principal consideration is the existence of malicious intent. There is a concurrence of freedom, intelligence and intent which together make up the "criminal mind" behind the "criminal act." Thus, to constitute a crime, the act must, generally and in most cases, be accompanied by a criminal intent. Actus non facit reum, nisi mens sit rea. No crime is committed if the mind of the person performing the act complained of is innocent.
Indeed, any allegation of intent of malice or deceit on appellant’s part was rebutted by her extraordinary effort to pay complainant notwithstanding her own financial situation.22
In the case at bar, the evidence for the prosecution is concededly weak. In such cases, even if the evidence for defense is also weak, the accused must be duly accorded the benefit of the doubt in view of the constitutional presumption of innocence that an accused enjoys. When the circumstances are capable of two or more inferences, as in this case, one of which is consistent with the presumption of innocence while the other is compatible with guilt, the presumption of innocence must prevail and the court must acquit.23
Courts are mandated to "put prosecution evidence under severe testing." Furthermore, the constitutional presumption of innocence requires them to take "a more than casual consideration" of every circumstance or doubt favoring the innocence of the accused.24 The evidence for the prosecution must stand or fall on its own weight and cannot be allowed to draw strength from the weakness of the defense.25 Considering the failure of the prosecution to discharge its burden of proof and overcome the constitutional presumption of innocence, it is not only appellant’s right to be freed; it is, even more, this Court’s constitutional duty to acquit her.26
Anent the civil liability which was impliedly instituted together with the criminal action, it appears that Levinia Maranan, in whom resided the duty to turn over the proceeds of the sale of the jewelry or to return the same if unsold, must be impleaded either as a co-defendant or a third-party defendant. Since she was not a party in the case at bar, a separate action should be instituted for the full determination of the civil liability.
WHEREFORE, in view of the foregoing, the appealed decision of the Regional Trial Court of Caloocan City, Branch 121, in Criminal Case No. C-58083 (99), is REVERSED and SET ASIDE. Appellant Josefina M. Dimalanta is ACQUITTED on grounds of reasonable doubt. The civil action is DISMISSED, without prejudice to the filing of a separate action to recover the civil liability under the transaction. The bail bond posted for her provisional liberty is CANCELLED and RELEASED.
Costs de oficio.
Davide, Jr., Quisumbing, Carpio, and Azcuna*, JJ., concur.
1 Record, pp. 241-247, at 247; penned by Presiding Judge Adoracion G. Angeles.
2 Id., p. 2.
3 Id., p. 54.
4 TSN, August 28, 2000, pp. 3-4.
5 Exhibits "A" to "K".
6 Exh. "L".
7 Exh. "L-2".
8 Exh. "O".
9 TSN, July 17, 2002, pp. 4-5.
10 Id., pp. 5-8.
11 Id., pp. 8-10.
12 Rollo, p. 130.
13 Id., pp. 189-204.
14 People v. Dinglasan, G.R. No. 133645, 17 September 2002, 389 SCRA 71, 77.
15 People v. Tan, G.R. No. 120672, 17 August 2000, 338 SCRA 330, 336-337.
16 People v. Ojeda, et al., G.R. Nos. 104238-58, 7 June 2004.
17 TSN, April 23, 2001, p. 4.
18 Rollo, pp. 199-202.
19 Pacheco, et al. v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 126670, 2 December 1999, 319 SCRA 595, 603.
20 People v. Gulion, et al., G.R. No. 141183 18 January 2001, 349 SCRA 610, 624.
22 Cf.: People v. Ojeda, supra.
23 People v. Batoctoy, et al., G.R. Nos. 137458-59, 24 April 2003, 401 SCRA 478, 496-497.
24 People v. Ratunil, G.R. No. 137270, 29 June 2000, 334 SCRA 721, 737.
25 People v. Cañete, G.R. No. 138400, 11 July 2002, 384 SCRA 411, 424; citations omitted.
26 People v. Go, G.R. No. 144639, 12 September 2003, 411 SCRA 81, 112.
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