“Estafador!” 

How often have we heard this exclamation between business partners? Deceit, breach of trust, abuse of confidence, severe dishonesty. These constitute the crime of estafa.

Elements of Estafa in the Philippines

Estafa exists when two factors concur:

  • One person is damaged by the acts of another and;
  • The acts by the latter caused damage to the former is consummated by through trickery. Deceit includes false pretense or abuse of trust in which case the damaged party parts with property or money that the offender eventually gains for himself.

Estafa is Mala in Se

Deceit that results in material damage is inherently evil and must be punished.  In the case of estafa, the penalty is imprisonment and a fine. The most severe punishment is levied for monetary damage exceeding P12,000.00.

The excerpted provision on estafa follows

Art. 315. Swindling (estafa). — Any person who shall defraud another by any of the means mentioned hereinbelow shall be punished by:

 

1st. The penalty of prision correccional in its maximum period to prision mayor in its minimum period, 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 not exceed twenty years. In such cases, and in connection with the accessory penalties which may be imposed under the provisions of this Code, the penalty shall be termed prision mayor or reclusion temporal, as the case may be.

How Does One Commit the Crime of Estafa

The felonious act of estafa presupposes abuse of confidence. Critical is that one of the parties reposes trust and confidence in the offender.  Let’s take an example.

Estafa commited by abuse of trust

Mark, the  offender, has the  obligation to hold the victim’s property in trust for the victim and the offender is mandated to return the same property back to the victim. Estafa  is thereby consummated when the offender, instead of returning or delivering the same, misappropriates  the property.

Misappropriation entails that the offender uses the property as if it were his own, or uses the property in a manner different from what had been previously agreed upon.

Let us  assume that Mark was given the authority to take Vic’s Toyota86 in trust to be housed for 30 days and oil-changed. Instead of complying with the agreement, Mark takes the car for several joy rides until it breaks down. Not only does he fail to repair the vehicle, he abandons the unit and hides from the owner.

Mark is guilty of estafa.

Estafa commited by deceit

Estafa may also be committed by deceit. The most common method involves the use of false pretenses to fool the victim into believing that the offender has the qualifications, power or influence to do something, and the victim, relying on such pretenses, parts with his property or money. Let’s look at an example.

Joy approaches a travel agency to contract the application for a visa. The agency’s representative collects fees and promises to render the same within five days. Unknown to Joyce, the representative never had the intention of rendering such service. When the due date arrives, Joy is informed that the application had been denied.

The representative is guilty of estafa and the company employing Joy can be held subsidiarily liable.

In  both cases, the victim suffers damage, which value can be ascertained by the courts.

Where does the aggrieved file the Estafa Case

Estafa has two essential elements which must concur. First element is deceit , or abuse of confidence; and the second element is damage. As estafa is a continuing crime, the action may be filed in any court where any of its essential elements were committed.

Thus, if deception or abuse of confidence was made in Quezon City and damage was caused in Taguig, then the case may be filed either in Manila or in Makati.

Estafa Examples and Reasoning

Estafa By Deceit Example

Estafa can be commited by deceit whereby the offender misrepresents facts to the victim and the latter relies on said misrepresenation, thereby parting with property or money. Damage ensues.

The  case of Rosita Sy vs. People of the Philippines, GR No. 183879, April 14, 2010.sees Rosita Sy  charged with estafa for having deceived Felicidad Navarro. Rosita  promised to  process Felicidad’s employment in Taiwan if Felicidad can pay her PHP120, 000.00.  Felicidad agreed contracted the job to Rosita. Therafter, Rosita gave false documents to Felicidad to be used by the latter for her application. The Taiwanese authorities rejected the false documents. Rosita was charged with estafa at the RTC

After due process at the lower court level, the Supreme Court ruled that Rosita should be held liable for estafa by means of deceit. According to the Supreme Court, all the elements of estafa by deceit were present.

First, Rosita falsely pretended that she had the qualifications to faciliate Felicidad’s employment in Taiwan. Second Felicidad relied on Rosita misrepresentation, and paid her the amount of P120, 000.00. However, despite Felicidad’s payment, Rosita’s promises did not happen. So, the transaction has caused damage to Felicidad.

It is easy to tell when there is estafa. Know the Elements:

  •  there should be an offender who represents himself to be someone who he
    really is not, or to be someone capable of doing something which he really cannot
  • and there should be a victim who believed and relied on the false representations of the offender.

What completes estafa is the damage that is caused to the victim who gave money or property because he believed in the false representations of the offender.

Estafa by Abuse of Confidence

The case of Asiatrust is cited for the following example.

Sometime in the early part of 1997, petitioner Anthony Ng, then engaged in the business of building and fabricating telecommunication towers under the trade name “Capitol Blacksmith and Builders,” applied for a credit line of PhP 3,000,000 with Asiatrust Development Bank, Inc. (Asiatrust).

 

On May 30, 1997, Asiatrust approved petitioner’s loan application. Petitioner was then required to sign several documents, among which are the Credit Line Agreement, Application and Agreement for Irrevocable L/C, Trust Receipt Agreements,4 and Promissory Notes. Though the Promissory Notes matured on September 18, 1997, the two (2) aforementioned Trust Receipt Agreements did not bear any maturity dates as they were left unfilled or in blank by Asiatrust.

 

After petitioner received the goods, consisting of chemicals and metal plates from his suppliers, he utilized them to fabricate the communication towers ordered from him by his clients which were installed in three project sites, namely: Isabel, Leyte; Panabo, Davao; and Tongonan.

 

As petitioner realized difficulty in collecting from his client Islacom, he failed to pay his loan to Asiatrust. Asiatrust then conducted a surprise ocular inspection of petitioner’s business through Villarva S. Linga, Asiatrust’s representative appraiser. Linga thereafter reported to Asiatrust that he found that approximately 97% of the subject goods of the Trust Receipts were “sold-out and that only 3 % of the goods pertaining to PN No. 1963 remained.

 

On March 16, 1999, Remedial Account Officer Ma. Girlie C. Bernardez filed a Complaint-Affidavit before the Office of the City Prosecutor of Quezon City.

 

Consequently, on September 12, 1999, an Information for Estafa, as defined and penalized under Art. 315, par. 1(b) of the RPC in relation to Sec. 3, PD 115 or the Trust Receipts Law, was filed with the RTC. The said Information reads:

 

That on or about the 30th day of May 1997, in Quezon City, Philippines, the above-named petitioner, did then and there willfully, unlawfully, and feloniously defraud Ma. Girlie C. Bernardez by entering into a Trust Receipt Agreement with said complainant whereby said petitioner as entrustee received in trust from the said complainant various chemicals in the total sum of P4.5 million with the obligation to hold the said chemicals in trust as property of the entruster with the right to sell the same for cash and to remit the proceeds thereof to the entruster, or to return the said chemicals if unsold; but said petitioner once in possession of the same, contrary to his aforesaid obligation under the trust receipt agreement with intent to defraud did then and there misappropriated, misapplied and converted the said amount to his own personal use and benefit and despite repeated demands made upon him, said petitioner refused and failed and still refuses and fails to make good of his obligation, to the damage and prejudice of the said Ma. Girlie C. Bernardez in the amount of P2,971,650.00, Philippine Currency.

 

Upon arraignment, petitioner pleaded not guilty to the charges. Thereafter, a full-blown trial ensued.

 

During the pendency of the abovementioned case, conferences between petitioner and Asiatrust’s Remedial Account Officer, Daniel Yap, were held. Afterward, a Compromise Agreement was drafted by Asiatrust. One of the requirements of the Compromise Agreement was for petitioner to issue six (6) postdated checks. Petitioner, in good faith, tried to comply by issuing two or three checks, which were deposited and made good. The remaining checks, however, were not deposited as the Compromise Agreement did not push through.

 

For his defense, petitioner argued that: (1) the loan was granted as his working capital and that the Trust Receipt Agreements he signed with Asiatrust were merely preconditions for the grant and approval of his loan; (2) the Trust Receipt Agreement corresponding to Letter of Credit No. 1963 and the Trust Receipt Agreement corresponding to Letter of Credit No. 1964 were both contracts of adhesion, since the stipulations found in the documents were prepared by Asiatrust in fine print; (3) unfortunately for petitioner, his contract worth PhP 18,000,000 with Islacom was not yet paid since there was a squabble as to the real ownership of the latter’s company, but Asiatrust was aware of petitioner’s receivables which were more than sufficient to cover the obligation as shown in the various Project Listings with Islacom, Smart Communications, and Infocom; (4) prior to the Islacom problem, he had been faithfully paying his obligation to Asiatrust as shown in Official Receipt Nos. 549001, 549002, 565558, 577198, 577199, and 594986,6 thus debunking Asiatrust’s claim of fraud and bad faith against him; (5) during the pendency of this case, petitioner even attempted to settle his obligations as evidenced by the two United Coconut Planters Bank Checks7 he issued in favor of Asiatrust; and (6) he had already paid PhP 1.8 million out of the PhP 2.971 million he owed as per Statement of Account dated January 26, 2000.

 

Ruling of the Trial Court

 

After trial on the merits, the RTC, on May 29, 2001, rendered a Decision, finding petitioner guilty of the crime of Estafa. The fallo of the Decision reads as follows:
WHEREFORE, judgment is hereby rendered finding the petitioner, Anthony L. Ng GUILTY beyond reasonable doubt for the crime of Estafa defined in and penalized by Article 315, paragraph 1(b) of the Revised Penal Code in relation to Section 3 of Presidential Decree 115, otherwise known as the Trust Receipts Law, and is hereby sentenced to suffer the indeterminate penalty of from six (6) years, eight (8) months, and twenty one (21) days of prision mayor, minimum, as the minimum penalty, to twenty (20) years of reclusion temporal maximum, as the maximum penalty.

 

The petitioner is further ordered to return to the Asiatrust Development Bank Inc. the amount of Two Million, Nine Hundred Seventy One and Six Hundred Fifty Pesos (P2,971,650.00) with legal rate of interest computed from the filing of the information on September 21,1999 until the amount is fully paid.

 

The Ruling of the Supreme Court

 

The Supreme Court reversed the findings of the Regional Trial Court and found that that petitioner is not liable for Estafa both under the RPC and PD 115.

 

The key ground is that Goods Were Not Received in Trust

 

The first element of Estafa under Art. 315, par. 1(b) of the RPC requires that the money, goods or other personal property must be received by the offender in trust or on commission, or for administration, or under any other obligation involving the duty to make delivery of, or to return it. But as we already discussed, the goods received by petitioner were not held in trust. They were also not intended for sale and neither did petitioner have the duty to return them. They were only intended for use in the fabrication of steel communication towers.

 

There is No Misappropriation of Goods or Proceeds

 

The second element of Estafa requires that there be misappropriation or conversion of such money or property by the offender, or denial on his part of such receipt.

 

This is the very essence of Estafa under Art. 315, par. 1(b). The words “convert” and “misappropriated” connote an act of using or disposing of another’s property as if it were one’s own, or of devoting it to a purpose or use different from that agreed upon. To misappropriate for one’s own use includes not only conversion to one’s personal advantage, but also every attempt to dispose of the property of another without a right.

 

Petitioner argues that there was no misappropriation or conversion on his part, because his liability for the amount of the goods subject of the trust receipts arises and becomes due only upon receipt of the proceeds of the sale and not prior to the receipt of the full price of the goods.

 

Petitioner is correct. Thus, assuming arguendo that the provisions of PD 115 apply, petitioner is not liable for Estafa because Sec. 13 of PD 115 provides that an entrustee is only liable for Estafa when he fails “to turn over the proceeds of the sale of the goods x x x covered by a trust receipt to the extent of the amount owing to the entruster or as appears in the trust receipt x x x in accordance with the terms of the trust receipt.”

 

The trust receipt entered into between Asiatrust and petitioner states:

 

In case of sale I/we agree to hand the proceeds as soon as received to the BANK to apply against the relative acceptance (as described above) and for the payment of any other indebtedness of mine/ours to ASIATRUST DEVELOPMENT BANK.19 (Emphasis supplied.)

 

Clearly, petitioner was only obligated to turn over the proceeds as soon as he received payment. However, the evidence reveals that petitioner experienced difficulties in collecting payments from his clients for the communication towers. Despite this fact, petitioner endeavored to pay his indebtedness to Asiatrust, which payments during the period from September 1997 to July 1998 total approximately PhP 1,500,000. Thus, absent proof that the proceeds have been actually and fully received by petitioner, his obligation to turn over the same to Asiatrust never arose.

 

What is more, under the Trust Receipt Agreement itself, no date of maturity was stipulated. The provision left blank by Asiatrust is as follows:

 

x x x and in consideration thereof, I/we hereby agree to hold said goods in Trust for the said Bank and as its property with liberty to sell the same for its account within ________ days from the date of execution of the Trust Receipt x x x20

 

In fact, Asiatrust purposely left the space designated for the date blank, an action which in ordinary banking transactions would be noted as highly irregular. Hence, the only way for the obligation to mature was for Asiatrust to demand from petitioner to pay the obligation, which it never did.

 

Again, it also makes the Court wonder as to why Asiatrust decided to leave the provisions for the maturity dates in the Trust Receipt agreements in blank, since those dates are elemental part of the loan. But then, as can be gleaned from the records of this case, Asiatrust also knew that the capacity of petitioner to pay for his loan also hinges upon the latter’s receivables from Islacom, Smart, and Infocom where he had ongoing and future projects for fabrication and installation of steel communication towers and not from the sale of said goods. Being a bank, Asiatrust acted inappropriately when it left such a sensitive bank instrument with a void circumstance on an elementary but vital feature of each and every loan transaction, that is, the maturity dates. Without stating the maturity dates, it was impossible for petitioner to determine when the loan will be due.

 

Moreover, Asiatrust was aware that petitioner was not engaged in selling the subject goods and that petitioner will use them for the fabrication and installation of communication towers. Before granting petitioner the credit line, as aforementioned, Asiatrust conducted an investigation, which showed that petitioner fabricated and installed communication towers for well-known communication companies to be installed at designated project sites. In fine, there was no abuse of confidence to speak of nor was there any intention to convert the subject goods for another purpose, since petitioner did not withhold the fact that they were to be used to fabricate steel communication towers to Asiatrust. Hence, no malice or abuse of confidence and misappropriation occurred in this instance due to Asiatrust’s knowledge of the facts.

 

Furthermore, Asiatrust was informed at the time of petitioner’s application for the loan that the payment for the loan would be derived from the collectibles of his clients. Petitioner informed Asiatrust that he was having extreme difficulties in collecting from Islacom the full contracted price of the towers. Thus, the duty of petitioner to remit the proceeds of the goods has not yet arisen since he has yet to receive proceeds of the goods. Again, petitioner could not be said to have misappropriated or converted the proceeds of the transaction since he has not yet received the proceeds from his client, Islacom.
This Court also takes judicial notice of the fact that petitioner has fully paid his obligation to Asiatrust, making the claim for damage and prejudice of Asiatrust baseless and unfounded. Given that the acceptance of payment by Asiatrust necessarily extinguished petitioner’s obligation, then there is no longer any obligation on petitioner’s part to speak of, thus precluding Asiatrust from claiming any damage. This is evidenced by Asiatrust’s Affidavit of Desistance21 acknowledging full payment of the loan.

 

Reasonable Doubt Exists

 

In the final analysis, the prosecution failed to prove beyond reasonable doubt that petitioner was guilty of Estafa under Art. 315, par. 1(b) of the RPC in relation to the pertinent provision of PD 115 or the Trust Receipts Law; thus, his liability should only be civil in nature.

 

While petitioner admits to his civil liability to Asiatrust, he nevertheless does not have criminal liability. It is a well-established principle that person is presumed innocent until proved guilty. To overcome the presumption, his guilt must be shown by proof beyond reasonable doubt. Thus, we held in People v. Mariano22 that while the principle does not connote absolute certainty, it means the degree of proof which produces moral certainty in an unprejudiced mind of the culpability of the accused. Such proof should convince and satisfy the reason and conscience of those who are to act upon it that the accused is in fact guilty. The prosecution, in this instant case, failed to rebut the constitutional innocence of petitioner and thus the latter should be acquitted.

 

At this point, the ruling of this Court in Colinares v. Court of Appeals is very apt, thus:

 

The practice of banks of making borrowers sign trust receipts to facilitate collection of loans and place them under the threats of criminal prosecution should they be unable to pay it may be unjust and inequitable, if not reprehensible. Such agreements are contracts of adhesion which borrowers have no option but to sign lest their loan be disapproved. The resort to this scheme leaves poor and hapless borrowers at the mercy of banks, and is prone to misinterpretation x x x.23
Such is the situation in this case.

Asiatrust’s intention became more evident when, on March 30, 2009, it, along with petitioner, filed their Joint Motion for Leave to File and Admit Attached Affidavit of Desistance to qualify the Affidavit of Desistance executed by Felino H. Esquivas, Jr., attorney-in-fact of the Board of Asiatrust, which acknowledged the full payment of the obligation of the petitioner and the successful mediation between the parties.

From the foregoing considerations, we deem it unnecessary to discuss and rule upon the other issues raised in the appeal.
WHEREFORE, the CA Decision dated August 29, 2003 affirming the RTC Decision dated May 29, 2001 is SET ASIDE. Petitioner ANTHONY L. NG is hereby ACQUITTED of the charge of violation of Art. 315, par. 1(b) of the RPC in relation to the pertinent provision of PD 115.
SO ORDERED.

 

 

 

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