In the prosecution for the crime of estafa committed under Article 315, paragraph 2(a) of the Revised Penal Code, there must be evidence of false representation or false pretense on the part of the accused to prove reasonable doubt. In this case, the employee's act of soliciting a client despite previous knowledge of several complaints against his or her employer for failure to deliver the motor vehicle that was the subject of the agreement, is tantamount to misrepresentation.Factual Antecedents
These petitions for review on certiorari
impugn the Decision
of the Court of Appeals (CA) in CA-G.R. CR No. 27414 which affirmed with modifications the Decision
of the Regional Trial Court of Manila, Branch 52, in Criminal Case No. 99-173688, convicting petitioners Lyzah Sy Franco (Franco) and Steve Besario (Besario) of the crime of Estafa. The Information filed against petitioners and their co-accused, Antonio Rule, Jr. (Rule) and George Torres (Torres), contained the following accusatory allegations:
That on or about the first week of June 1998, in the City of Manila, Philippines, the said accused, conspiring and confederating together and helping one another, did then and there willfully, unlawfully and feloniously defraud MA. LOURDES G. ANTONIO, in the following manner, to wit: the said accused by means of false manifestations and fraudulent representations which they made to said Ma. Lourdes G. Antonio, to the effect that they are employees of FINAL ACCESS MARKETING, a business entity engaged in the sale and financing of used or repossessed cars, and as such could process and facilitate the sale of a Mazda car 323 bearing plate number PVB-999 worth P130,000.00 provided they be given the amount of P80,000.00 as down payment and by means of other deceits of similar import, induced and succeeded in inducing the said Ma. Lourdes G. Antonio to give and deliver as in fact she gave and delivered to herein accused the said amount of P80,000.00, and accused knowing fully well that their manifestations and representations were false and untrue and were made only to obtain the said amount of P80,000.00 which amount once in their possession, did then and there willfully, unlawfully and feloniously misapply, misappropriate and convert the said amount of P80,000.00 to their own personal use and benefit, to the damage and prejudice of said MA. LOURDES G. ANTONIO in the aforesaid amount of P80,000.00 in its equivalent amount to the Philippine Currency.
Contrary to law.
During arraignment, petitioners entered separate pleas of "not guilty." Rule and Torres failed to appear and, to date, remain at large. After the termination of the pre-trial conference, trial ensued.The Version of the Prosecution
Ma. Lourdes G. Antonio (Lourdes) testified that petitioners swindled her. She claimed that Franco was a friend of her niece and that she has known her for almost a year. In the first week of June 1998, Franco came to her house and offered to assist her in purchasing a used car. Franco introduced herself as Assistant Administrative Coordinator of Final Access Marketing which was engaged in the sale and financing of second-hand and repossessed vehicles. Franco gave her calling card after their conversation.
Lourdes was interested in the offer of Franco since she and her husband were actually looking for a used car for their taxicab operation. She therefore contacted Franco to take up her offer.
On June 26, 1998, Franco and Lourdes went to a showroom on Houston Street, San Juan, Metro Manila, where Lourdes immediately chose a blue Mazda 323 car with Plate No. PVB No. 999 from those that were on display.
At around 7 o'clock in the evening of July 2, 1998, Franco went to the house of Lourdes and presented a sales proposal. She was with Besario and Rule, whom she introduced as her superiors. Rule then made a presentation on the Mazda 323 car informing Lourdes that she can buy it for P130,000.00 with a downpayment of P80,000.00 and the balance to be paid in 12 equal monthly installments. Rule also told Lourdes that the car would be delivered within three days from receipt of her money.
Lourdes agreed to pay the downpayment the following day. Before the petitioners departed, Rule ordered Franco to sign the sales proposal as sales executive. Lourdes also signed the document. Rule then issued a receipt dated July 3, 1998 and instructed Franco and Besario to give it to Lourdes after receiving her downpayment upon their return on the next day.
The following day, July 3, 1998, Franco and Besario returned to the house of Lourdes to collect the downpayment of P80,000.00. Besario received and counted the money and handed it to Franco. After counting the money, Franco returned the same to Besario, who put it inside the bag he was carrying. They gave to Lourdes the receipt dated July 3, 1998 that was signed by Rule. At the same time, they assured her that the car would be delivered in three days.
The car, however, was not delivered as promised. Lourdes called up Final Access Marketing's office and was able to talk to the owner/manager, Torres, who assured her that her downpayment would be refunded or that they would look for a replacement.
Meanwhile, Lourdes and her husband returned to the showroom on Houston Street, San Juan, where they saw the Mazda car already clean. The security guard told them it was ready for release in the afternoon.
When the car was still undelivered, Lourdes sought the aid of "Hoy Gising
," a television show that broadcasts grievances of people against fraudulent schemes. During a visit to the show's office, Lourdes learned that 12 other persons were victimized by the group of petitioners.
Lourdes also met with Atty. Renz Jaime, legal counsel of Final Access Marketing, who assured her that Final Access Marketing would return her money by August. When he reneged on his promise, formal demand was made on him to settle the obligation of said business enterprise.
Erlinda Acosta (Erlinda) was one of the alleged victims of petitioners whom Lourdes met while airing her complaint in the television program "Hoy Gising
." Erlinda testified that she was referred to Besario when she was looking for a second-hand vehicle. She went to the office of Final Access Marketing in Timog Avenue, Quezon City, and was shown by Besario several pictures of vehicles from which she chose a Mitsubishi Pajero.
On April 7, 1998, Erlinda and her son met Besario, Rule and their other companions in a restaurant. They brought the vehicle Erlinda wanted to purchase and her son drove it for a road test. Thereafter, she agreed to buy the vehicle for P600,000.00. She signed a Vehicle Sales Proposal and handed to Rule a downpayment of US$3,000.00.
On April 20, 1998, Erlinda delivered to Besario and Rule a manager's check in the amount of P245,000.00 as payment for the entire balance. She was then assured that the vehicle will be delivered a week later. However, Besario and Rule reneged on their promise. Erlinda went to the office of Final Access Marketing and complained to Franco but to no avail. Her motor vehicle was never delivered. Thus, she went to "Hoy Gising
Juanito Antonio corroborated the testimony of his wife, Lourdes. He was present when petitioners Franco and Besario, together with Rule, went to their house in the evening of July 2, 1998 with a written proposal for the sale of a vehicle. After his wife signed the document, she gave a downpayment of P80,000.00. When the car was not delivered on the date agreed upon, he and his wife went to the office of Final Access Marketing. Upon their inquiries, the security guard on duty said that the car they purchased already had a gate pass and would be delivered in the afternoon. However, the said vehicle was never delivered to them.The Version of the Petitioners
Franco denied involvement in the alleged conspiracy to commit estafa against Lourdes. She alleged that it was Torres, the owner of Final Access Marketing, who was the swindler. And like Lourdes, she was a victim in this case.
Franco claimed that petitioner Besario hired her as a clerk-typist. She was promoted to the position of Assistant Administrative Coordinator and was authorized to solicit clients for Final Access Marketing.
Franco learned from her sister that Lourdes wanted to purchase a second-hand car. She went to see Lourdes and presented to the latter a list of repossessed vehicles. She gave her calling card to Lourdes before they parted. Later on, Lourdes called and visited the office of Final Access Marketing, where Franco introduced Lourdes to Besario and Rule.
Franco accompanied Lourdes to showrooms where the latter chose a blue Mazda car with Plate No. PVB 999. Rule agreed to sell the car to Lourdes for P130,000.00. Thus, on the evening of July 2, 1998, she, Besario and Rule went to the house of Lourdes with a Vehicle Sales Proposal. Franco signed the document without reading and understanding the same upon the insistence of Rule. Rule then signed an official receipt and instructed Franco and Besario to return the next day to give the same to Lourdes after collecting her downpayment. Lourdes was also assured that the car would be delivered within three days from receipt of the downpayment.
On July 3, 1998, at around 10 a.m., Franco and Besario came back to collect the downpayment. Lourdes gave her cash payment to Besario, who counted it. He gave said cash to Franco, who counted it again. When the money was handed back to Besario, he put it inside a black bag. Thereafter, Franco and Besario went to a restaurant to pick-up Rule. They rode a taxi and proceeded to the house of Torres, but it was only Besario and Rule who went inside. Franco went home without receiving a single centavo for her transportation fare.
When the car was not delivered, Lourdes called Franco who in turn reminded her boss to expedite its release. However, the continued failure to receive the vehicle compelled Lourdes to report the incident to "Hoy Gising
." It was only during this period that Franco learned of similar complaints from other customers. Thereafter, Lourdes called her intermittently asking for a reimbursement. However, the latter could not do anything since her employers no longer reported to the office. Rule and Torres left Manila and went to Cebu. She was not aware of their whereabouts at the time of her testimony.
On the other hand, Besario failed to attend several hearings. The notice to appear and to present evidence sent to him was returned unserved since he moved to another address without informing the trial court. Thus, upon motion of the prosecution, he was declared to have waived his right to present evidence. The case was consequently submitted for decision.The Ruling of the Regional Trial Court
On October 23, 2001, the trial court rendered its Decision finding petitioners guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the crime of estafa under Article 315, par. 1(b) of the Revised Penal Code. The dispositive portion reads as follows:
ACCORDINGLY, above premises all considered, the Court finding accused Lyzah Sy Franco and Steve Besario GUILTY, beyond reasonable doubt, of the crime charged in the Information, the Court hereby sentences said two accused to each suffer the indeterminate penalty of imprisonment ranging from seventeen (17) years of reclusion temporal as MAXIMUM to eight (8) years and one (1) day of prison mayor as MINIMUM and to suffer all the accessory penalties as provided by law.
The Ruling of the Court of Appeals
Accused Franco and Besario, jointly and severally are likewise ordered to pay private complainant Ma. Lourdes Antonio the sum of P80,000.00 as actual damages.
On July 26, 2005, the CA promulgated its Decision that affirmed with
modification the decision of the trial court. It convicted the petitioners for the crime of estafa under Article 315, par. 2(a) of the Revised Penal Code and modified the penalty. The dispositive portion of its Decision reads as follows:
WHEREFORE, in view of the foregoing premises, the Decision dated October 23, 2001 rendered by the trial court is hereby AFFIRMED, with modification to the effect that the penalty imposed upon each of the appellants is hereby MODIFIED to an indeterminate sentence of Four (4) years, Two (2) months, and One (1) day of prision correccional as minimum to Thirteen (13) years of reclusion temporal as maximum.
Accused Franco and Besario are likewise ordered to pay, jointly and severally, private complainant, Ma. Lourdes Antonio, the sum of P80,000.00 as actual damages.
Hence, petitioners filed separate petitions for review on certiorari
assailing the Decision of the CA. Franco contends that "the Court of Appeals decided the case on a mistaken inference and [misappreciation] of facts bordering on speculations, surmises or conjectures."
On the other hand, Besario ascribes the following error to the CA:
PUBLIC RESPONDENT COURT OF APPEALS COMMITTED REVERSIBLE ERROR BY DISREGARDING THE LAW, JURISPRUDENCE AND EVIDENCE WHEN IT RULED THAT PETITIONER BESARIO IS GUILTY OF THE CRIME OF ESTAFA AS CHARGED IN THE INFORMATION.
In its Consolidated Comment, the Solicitor General opposes the petitions by arguing that "petitioners raise[d] questions of fact which are inappropriate in a petition for review on certiorari
. x x x."
The Solicitor General also believes the prosecution's evidence was sufficient to convict petitioners of estafa under Article 315, par. 2(a) of the Revised Penal Code and that petitioners' defenses failed to overturn the evidence showing their guilt beyond reasonable doubt.Our Ruling
The petitions are not meritorious.Exception to the Finality and Conclusiveness
of Factual Findings of the Court of Appeals
"[A]s a rule, our jurisdiction in cases brought to us from the Court of Appeals is limited to the review and revision of errors of law allegedly committed by the appellate court, as findings of fact are deemed conclusive and we are not duty-bound to analyze and weigh all over again the evidence already considered in the proceedings below."
While this rule is not without exception, there are no exceptional circumstances in these cases that warrant a departure from the findings of facts of the trial court, as affirmed by the CA. Even after considering the merits, the petitions deserve outright denial.
The conviction of Franco and Besario for conspiring to commit estafa against Lourdes must therefore stand. The prosecution satisfactorily established their participation in the scheme to defraud Lourdes, their acts were not isolated from but related to a plot to deceive her. The prosecution likewise proved beyond reasonable doubt that the well-planned swindling scheme of Franco and Besario resulted to estafa.Conspiracy must be Shown as Clearly
as the Commission of the Offense
There is conspiracy when two or more persons agree to commit a felony
and decide to commit it.
"Conspiracy must be proven on the same quantum of evidence as the felony subject of the agreement of the parties. [It] may be proved by direct or circumstantial evidence consisting of acts, words, or conduct of the alleged conspirators [prior to], during and after the commission of the felony to achieve a common design or purpose."
Several circumstances in this case conclusively show Franco's role in defrauding Lourdes. She was the one who personally approached Lourdes and actively made representations on behalf of Final Access Marketing despite previous knowledge of the company's failure to deliver the vehicle sold to Erlinda. She offered to help Lourdes purchase a second-hand car by presenting herself as an Assistant Administrative Coordinator of said company. She also assisted Lourdes in selecting a car she wanted to buy. Six days later, Franco arrived with Besario and Rule in the house of Lourdes after regular business hours. Franco made the necessary introductions and they commenced with a presentation that persuaded Lourdes to part with her money. They showed Lourdes a prepared Sales Proposal Agreement that Franco signed as a sales executive.
Franco, together with Besario, returned the next day to collect the downpayment of Lourdes. After counting the money and putting it inside a bag, they assured Lourdes that the car would be delivered within three days. When they failed to fulfill their promise and their unlawful scheme was unraveled, she did not do anything to placate Lourdes.
We cannot lend credence to Franco's assertion that she only knew of her employer's fraudulent scheme after Lourdes reported the same to "Hoy Gising.
" For sure, before their former clients reported their anomalous transactions to "Hoy Gising
," they first lodged their complaints with the company itself. Hence, we are at a loss why Franco, as the company's Assistant Administrative Coordinator would feign ignorance of the same. We also could not understand why after "discovering" her employer's fraudulent transactions, and after said employers absconded, Franco continued to report to their office. She did not even bother to inform Lourdes that her employers had already absconded. Finally, since she made representations to Lourdes that the car would be delivered in three days time, the least that Franco could have done was to investigate the matter and explain to Lourdes the company's failure to deliver the car. After all, Franco was a friend of Lourdes' niece.
Besario, for his part, actively conspired with Franco by inducing Lourdes to part with her money. He also went to the house of Lourdes and induced the latter to make a downpayment on the car she wanted to purchase and sign the Sales Proposal Agreement. He and Franco collected the money from Lourdes and promised her that the car would be delivered three days later even if he had knowledge from the previous transaction with Erlinda that the delivery would never happen. Thereafter, he could not be reached or found when the car was still undelivered and their devious plot was exposed.
Evidently, petitioners' actions were in relation to the attainment of a common objective. They had vital roles in the nefarious scheme to sell a vehicle that they knew would never be delivered, but for which they obtained a substantial sum of money from Lourdes.
Having established the existence of a conspiracy between Franco and Besario, the prosecution proceeded to present evidence to prove that the acts of the petitioners constituted estafa.Estafa by Means of Deceit
Article 315, par. 2(a) of the Revised Penal Code penalizes fraud or deceit when committed as follows:
x x x x
2. by means of any of the following false pretenses or fraudulent acts executed prior to or simultaneously with the commission of fraud:
(a) by using fictitious name, or actions, falsely pretending to possess power, influence, qualification, property, credit, agency, business or imaginary transactions, or by means of other similar deceits.
"The elements of the crime of estafa under the foregoing provision are: (1) there must be a false pretense, fraudulent acts or fraudulent means; (2) such false pretense, fraudulent act or fraudulent means must be made or executed prior to or simultaneously with the commission of the fraud; (3) the offended party must have relied on the false pretense, fraudulent act or fraudulent means and was thus induced to part with his money or property; and (4) as a result thereof, the offended party suffered damage."
Petitioners presented themselves to Lourdes as persons possessing the authority and capacity to engage in the financing of used vehicles in behalf of Final Access Marketing. This was a clear misrepresentation considering their previous knowledge not only of Erlinda's complaint but also of several others as regards the failure of Final Access Marketing to deliver the motor vehicles bought. Lourdes relied on their misrepresentations and parted with her money. Almost a week passed by, but petitioners and Rule did not deliver the said motor vehicle. They also did not fulfill their subsequent promise to provide a replacement or to refund her payment. When Lourdes visited the office of Final Access Marketing to demand the return of her money, it was already closed. She could not locate any of them except for Franco who denied any wrongdoing. Consequently, she suffered damage.
If indeed they were innocent as they claimed to be, Erlinda's complaint to petitioners and the 12 other similar complaints with "Hoy Gising
" regarding undelivered vehicles should have dissuaded petitioners from further soliciting customers. The fact that they continued to offer for sale a second-hand car to Lourdes is indicative of deceit and their complicity in the conspiracy to commit estafa. The manner in which petitioners transacted business with Erlinda and Lourdes as well as their awareness of 12 other similar complaints with "Hoy Gising
" were sufficient to establish the existence of a modus operandi
Franco's attempt to escape culpability by feigning ignorance of the previously failed transactions on the delivery of vehicles by Final Access Marketing cannot be countenanced. As gleaned from the testimony of Erlinda, Franco was already with Final Access Marketing at the time these transactions occurred. She was therefore familiar with the company's procedure and policy on the sales of second-hand vehicles. She even accompanied Lourdes to showrooms and introduced her to Besario and Rule.
As an employee of Final Access Marketing, Franco was expected to be familiar with its daily activities. It would be unworthy of belief that she did not know of the complaints for the unexplained failure of Final Access Marketing to deliver vehicles to its customers. Human nature and experience would compel her to make queries on her own to discover the reasons for the non-delivery of the vehicles. Her continued insistence in soliciting Lourdes as a client by introducing herself as an Assistant Administrative Coordinator of Final Access Marketing with the ability to provide financing for a vehicle of her choice is therefore indicative of fraudulent misrepresentation.
The petitioners also contend that they are not criminally liable since the transaction with Lourdes was a contract of sale. This contention does not deserve serious consideration. While the fact that they entered into a contract with Lourdes cannot be denied, the transaction transpired due to their deceit. It was their misrepresentation that induced Lourdes to sign the Sales Proposal agreement and part with her money.
In denying any criminal wrongdoing, petitioners blame their co-accused, Torres, whom they claim to be the owner of Final Access Marketing. The shifting of blame is common among conspirators in their attempt to escape liability. It is a desperate strategy to compensate for their weak defense. We are not readily influenced by such a proposition since its "obvious motive is to distort the truth and frustrate the ends of justice."The Penalty
Having committed the crime of estafa, the petitioners must suffer the proper penalties provided by law. The law imposes the penalty of prision correccional
in its maximum period to prision mayor
in its minimum period if the amount is over P12,000.00 but does not exceed P22,000.00. If the amount swindled exceeds P22,000.00, the penalty shall be imposed in its maximum period, adding one year for each additional P10,000.00, but the total penalty which may be imposed shall not exceed 20 years.
To determine the minimum of the indeterminate penalty, prision correccional
in its maximum period to prision mayor
in its minimum period shall be reduced by one degree, that is, to prision correccional
in its minimum and medium periods. The minimum period of the indeterminate penalty shall be taken from the full range of the penalty of prision correccional
in its minimum and medium periods, which is six (6) months and one (1) day to four (4) years and two (2) months. With the amount of the fraud at P80,000.00, there is P58,000.00 in excess of P22,000.00. Five years must therefore be added to the maximum period of the prescribed penalty ranging from six (6) years, eight (8) months and twenty-one (21) days to eight (8) years. Thus, the maximum term of the penalty would range from eleven (11) years, eight (8) months and twenty-one (21) days to thirteen (13) years. This is in accord with our ruling in People v. Temparada, viz:
The prescribed penalty for estafa under Article 315, par. 2(d) of the RPC, when the amount defrauded exceeds P22,000.00, is prision correccional maximum to prision mayor minimum. The minimum term is taken from the penalty next lower or anywhere within prision correccional minimum and medium (i.e. from 6 months and 1 day to 4 years and 2 months). Consequently, the RTC correctly fixed the minimum term for the five estafa cases at 4 years and 2 months of prision correccional since this is within the range of prision correccional minimum and medium.WHEREFORE
On the other hand, the maximum term is taken from the prescribed penalty of prision correccional maximum to prision mayor minimum in its maximum period, adding 1 year of imprisonment for every P10,000.00 in excess of P22,000.00, provided that the total penalty shall not exceed 20 years. However, the maximum period of the prescribed penalty of prision correccional maximum to prision mayor minimum is not prision mayor minimum as apparently assumed by the RTC. To compute the maximum period of the prescribed penalty, prision correccional maximum to prision mayor minimum should be divided into three equal portions of time each of which portion shall be deemed to form one period in accordance with Article 65 of the RPC. Following this procedure, the maximum period of prision correccional maximum to prision mayor minimum is from 6 years, 8 months and 21 days to 8 years. The incremental penalty, when proper, shall thus be added to anywhere from 6 years, 8 months and 21 days to 8 years, at the discretion of the court.
In computing the incremental penalty, the amount defrauded shall be subtracted by P22,000.00, and the difference shall be divided by P10,000.00. Any fraction of a year shall be discarded as was done starting with the case of People v. Pabalan in consonance with the settled rule that penal laws shall be construed liberally in favor of the accused. x x x.
, the petitions for review on certiorari
. The Decision of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. CR No. 27414 which affirmed with modification the Decision of the Regional Trial Court, Branch 52, in Criminal Case No. 99-173688 convicting petitioners Lyzah Sy Franco and Steve Besario of the crime of estafa is AFFIRMED with further modification
that the indeterminate prison term imposed on each of the petitioners is four (4) years and two (2) months of prision correccional
as minimum to thirteen (13) years of reclusion temporal
as maximum.SO ORDERED
Corona, C.J., (Chairperson), Velasco, Jr., Leonardo-De Castro, and Perez, JJ., concur.
 CA rollo, pp. 185-199; penned by Associate Justice Arcangelita M. Romilla-Lontok and concurred in by Associate Justices Rodrigo V. Cosico and Danilo B. Pine. .
 Records, pp. 360-373; penned by Judge Edgardo F. Sundiam.
 Id. at 1-2.
 Id. at 373.
 CA rollo, p. 199.
 Rollo of G.R. No. 171328, p. 10.
 Rollo of G.R. No. 171335, p. 17.
 Id. at 197.
 People v. Petralba, 482 Phil. 362, 374 (2004).
 Erquiaga v. Court of Appeals, 419 Phil. 641, 647 (2001).
 Revised Penal Code, Article 8.
 Preferred Home Specialties, Inc. v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 163593, December 16, 2005, 478 SCRA 387, 414-415.
 RCL Feeders PTE., Ltd. v. Hon. Perez, 487 Phil. 211, 220-221 (2004).
 People v. Macaliag, 392 Phil. 284, 299 (2000).
 Revised Penal Code, Article 315.
 G.R. No. 173473, December 17, 2008, 574 SCRA 258, 283-284.