G. R. No. 105213 December 4, 1996
ERLINDA DE LA CRUZ,
Petitioner, v. COURT OF APPEALS and PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES,
Denial of the instant appeal is appropriate in light of the well-entrenched doctrine upholding factual findings of the trial court when affirmed by the Court of Appeals. This Court likewise takes occasion to reiterate the computation of the indeterminate penalty to be applied in estafa cases where the amount defrauded exceeds P22,000.00.
This petition for review on certiorari seeks a review and reversal of the February 28, 1992 Decision
of the respondent Court of Appeals
which affirmed petitioner's conviction for estafa under Article 315, paragraph 2(a) of the Revised Penal Code. Insisting on her innocence, petitioner claims that the aforesaid Decision is "contrary to the rules of evidence and established jurisprudence".
On February 21, 1990, the City Prosecutor of Quezon City filed an Information charging petitioner with the crime of estafa, thus:
That in or about and during the period comprised from August 28, 1989 to September 4, 1989, in Quezon City, Philippines, and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the above-named accused with intent of gain, by means of false pretenses or fraudulent acts executed prior to or simultaneously with the commission of the fraud, did then and there wilfully, unlawfully and feloniously defraud one VICTOR V. BELLOSILLO, in the following manner, to wit: on the dates and place aforementioned, said accused by means of false manifestations and fraudulent representations to the effect that she had the power, influence and capacity to secure and effect the release of five (5) container vans of used engines of different brands with the Bureau of Customs, knowing said manifestations and representations to be false and fraudulent, induced the said complainant to give and deliver, as in fact, the latter gave and delivered to said accused the total sum of P715,000.00, Philippine Currency, as payment for the demurrage and storage dues for the five (5) container vans of used engines, which amount once in possession and far from complying with her aforesaid obligation, despite repeated demands therefor, with intent to defraud, the said accused misapplied, misappropriated and converted the same to her own personal use and benefits, to the damage and prejudice of said offended party in the total amount aforementioned and in such amount as may be awarded to him under the provisions of the New Civil Code.
The respondent Court adopted the statement of facts prepared by the trial court,
Sometime in August, 1989, the private complainant was introduced to the accused by Johny Cruz and Gabby Viudez at the Maxim's Restaurant located at the corner of T.M. Kalaw Street and Roxas Boulevard, Manila.
This meeting resulted into the accused proposing to the private complainant a business transaction which was reduced into an Agreement of Undertaking dated August 16, 1989, between them, whereby the accused, as seller, undertook to cause the release from the Bureau of Customs of 832 pieces of used gasoline engines and spare parts which the private complainant, as buyer, agreed to pay for P700,000.00. (Exh. 1).
As agreed therein, after the accused explained to the private complainant the procedure of the transaction, the private complainant paid to the accused the amount of P300,000.00, upon the signing of the agreement on August 16, 1989, the balance of P400,000.00, payable within three (3) day(s) after the date of the completion of the delivery of the merchandise. (Exh. l-E).
The next day, the accused and the private complainant met at Gate I of the South Harbor to facilitate the release of the merchandise. Because the merchandise cannot be released for lack of certain signatures, the accused did not pay the storage fees to the 7-R Port Services, Inc. at the Port of Manila, and she, consequently, told the private complainant to wait for three (3) days. But the private complainant cannot wait. Consequently, the Agreement of Undertaking was not consummated.
So, the accused, showing the bill of lading to the private complainant, propositioned (to) him that she will, instead, work for the release of used engines contained in five (5) container vans which she pointed to him.
The private complainant told the accused that he will think about it.
Later, however, the accused was able to convince the private complainant after telling him that an importer who owns the five (5) vans will pay her the amount of P1.8 million after their release which she can easily do so as a custom's broker considering that she has influence and connections in the Bureau of Customs having been connected there as a representative of a broker. She told the private complainant that if he will fund the payment of the demurrage and storage fees of the five (5) container vans, his money will be doubled.
For this purpose, the accused gave to the private complainant a calling card wherein it is stated that she is the General Manager of the E.B. Gardiola Customs Brokerage, the licensed broker.
Because of these representations made by the accused to the private complainant, the latter agreed to fund the release of the five (5) container vans containing used engines.
As a consequence, the private complainant, in addition to the amount of P300,000.00 which was already given by the private complainant to the accused because of the Agreement of Undertaking, gave an additional amount of P100,000.00 to the accused at Santie's Retaurant at Timog Avenue, Quezon City, for which the accused signed a receipt for P400,000.00 on August 28, 1989, as having received the said amount from the private complainant as expenses for the payment of demurrage and storage fees for the release of five (5) container vans of used gasoline engines from the Bureau of Customs, to be delivered on or before that week. (Exh. A, Exh. 2).
The accused failed, however, to deliver the used engines as he (sic) committed. And, when the private complainant asked her why, the accused said that the transaction was not yet facilitated at the Bureau of Customs.
Meanwhile, the accused also interested the private complainant for the release of a Mercedes Benz car which she said can be done together with the five (5) container vans of used engines, if the additional amount of P140,000.00 is given by the private complainant.
The private complainant raised this amount by pawning certain valuables, for which the accused signed a receipt on August 31, 1989, for P140,000.00, as expenses for demurrage and storage fees for the release of the Mercedes Benz car. (Exh. B, Exh. 4).
But, still the Mercedes Benz car and the five (5) container vans of used engines were not delivered by the accused, on the excuse that there was still lacking the amount of P175,000.00 for demurrage and storage fees.
The private complainant also gave this amount to the accused who signed a receipt for P175,000.00, on September 4, 1989, as additional storage fees of the five (5) container vans for used engines. (Exh. C, Exh. 3).
But neither the five (5) container vans of used engines or the Mercedes Benz car was delivered by the accused to the private complainant up to the present, notwithstanding her promises to do so, and inspite of the repeated demands from the private complainant.
The trial court, in its decision dated November 29, 1990, found petitioner guilty:
ACCORDINGLY, judgment is hereby rendered convicting the accused, ERLINDA DE LA CRUZ, of the crime of Estafa, defined and penalized in Article 315, paragraph 2 (a) of the Revised Penal Code, and in accordance therewith, taking into consideration the Indeterminate Sentence Law, there being no mitigating or aggravating circumstances which attended the commission of the offense, the said accused is sentenced to suffer an indeterminate penalty of imprisonment of from FOUR (4) YEARS and TWO (2) MONTHS of prision correccional in its medium period, as the minimum, to EIGHT (8) YEARS of prision mayor in its minimum period, as the maximum, plus 69 years considering that the amount defrauded by the accused exceeds the sum of P22,000.00, computed at one (1) year for each additional P10,000.00 out of the P693,000.00 excess thereof, but the penalty to be suffered by the accused shall not exceed twenty (20) years; with all the accessory penalties provided for by law; to indemnify private complainant Victor B. Bellosillo the amount of P715,000.00, and to pay the costs.
Petitioner appealed the foregoing judgment of conviction to respondent Court. But finding her allegations superficial, contradicted by the sincere and candid testimony of the complainant and unsupported by the evidence established on record, respondent Court disposed of the appeal as follows:
WHEREFORE, the judgment of conviction herein appealed from is AFFIRMED, and the indeterminate penalty imposed by the lower court on appellant is clarified so as to read:
From four (4) years and two (2) months of prision correcional as minimum to 20 years of reclusion temporal as maximum.
The same judgment is AFFIRMED in all other respects, with costs against appellant Erlinda de la Cruz.
Petitioner's motion for reconsideration was denied by respondent Court in two Resolutions dated April 23, 1992 and May 15, 1992.
The petitions flails the respondent Court for the following errors:
1. Respondent Court of Appeals erred in holding that accused employed false pretense or influence and connection as a way of defrauding the private complainant.
2. The respondent Court of Appeals erred in holding that the business transaction entered into by the accused with the private complainant was fraudulently designed to damage the latter.
3. Respondent Court of Appeals erred in holding that there was no error in the judgment of the trial court.
In her petition, which she adopted as her memorandum,
petitioner discusses these alleged errors simultaneously. At bottom, she merely challenges the factual findings of the trial court, as affirmed by the respondent Court of Appeals. In her 3-page "Arguments and Discussions," she claims that the "prosecution FAILED to prove its affirmative allegations in the indictment regarding the elements of the crime as well as the attendant circumstances."
The Court's Ruling
Factual Findings Are Final and Binding
It is doctrinal that the findings of facts of the Court of Appeals affirming those of the trial court are accorded great respect, even finality, by this Court. In Juan Castillo, et al. v.
Court of Appeals, et al.,
we ruled that :
Prevailing jurisprudence uniformly holds that findings of facts of the trial court, particularly when affirmed by the Court of Appeals, are binding upon this Court.
"The general rule is that factual findings of lower courts are accorded respect by [the Supreme Court] on review of their decisions. . . ." (Lim vs. Court of Appeals, 229 SCRA 616, 621 [February 3, 1994].)
". . . Findings of fact made by a trial court are accorded the highest degree of respect by an appellate tribunal and, absent a clear disregard of the evidence before it than can otherwise affect the results of the case, those findings should not be ignored . . ." (Navallo vs. Sandiganbayan, 234 SCRA 175, 185-186 [July 18, 1994].)
"The petition is bereft of merit and merely raises factual issues, the determination of which is best left to the trial court. Well-settled is the rule that findings of fact of the trial court and the Court of Appeals are not to be disturbed on appeal and are entitled to great weight and respect (Tay Chun Suy vs. Court of Appeals, 229 SCRA 151 . . . ." (Verdejo vs. Court of Appeals, 238 SCRA 781, 784 [December 5, 1994].)
"It is settled rule that the findings of fact of trial courts are given great weight on appeal because they are in a better position to examine the real evidence, and observe the demeanor of the witnesses, and can therefore discern if they are telling the truth or not. . . ." (People vs. Cabalhin, 231 SCRA 486, 496 [March 28, 1994].)
It is likewise very basic that only errors of law and not of fact are reviewable by this Court in petitions for review on certiorari under Rule 45, which is the very rule relied upon by petitioner.
Well settled is the rule that the jurisdiction of this Court in cases brought before it from the Court of Appeals is limited to the review or revision of errors of law and not to analyze or weigh the evidence all over again. The findings of fact of the Court of Appeals are thus final and conclusive, except in some cases as where such findings are contrary to those of the trial court, as in this case where the Court of Appeals and the trial court are hopelessly opposed to each other on their respective findings concerning the issues presented.
The issue raised is factual. As a rule, the jurisdiction of this Court in cases brought to it from the Court of Appeals is limited to the review and revision of errors of law allegedly committed by the appellate court, as its findings of fact are deemed conclusive. This Court is not bound to analyze and weigh all over again the evidence already considered in the proceedings below. This rule, however, is not without exceptions, one of which is when there is a conflict between the factual findings of the Court of Appeals and the trial court which necessitates a review of such factual findings.
If only for the above settled doctrines, this Court considering the scant discussion and puerile arguments raised by petitioner, whose counsel did not even bother to file a memorandum as required in our Resolution of October 19, 1992 could have given this petition short shrift and could have dismissed the case outright. In any event and in the interest of justice, the Court deliberated carefully on various aspects of the case and decided to discuss the merits of the case in a full decision.
First Issue: Use of False Pretense or Influence Established
Petitioner contends that she employed no false pretense or fraudulent acts upon private complainant. On the contrary, she insists that the parties merely entered into a partnership or business transaction, and she could not be held liable for estafa for her failure to produce profits. However, this contention was ably disposed of by the respondent Court, thus:
Accused-appellant insists in her brief that there was no false pretense on her part and that she and the private complainant simply entered into a business transaction, and this was admitted by the latter himself (p.14, her Brief). Yes, private complainant admitted that he did enter into a business transaction with appellant, but this transaction was induced and attended by her representations, which turned out to be false, that she had strong influence and connections with the Bureau of Customs to obtain release of the five (5) vans of merchandise in question by simply paying the demurrage and storage charges, which she would pay with complainant's money, and after their release, his money would be doubled. This, private complainant stated again and again on direct examination, on cross, and in answering questions from the court, with apparent sincerity and candor. We quote:
"When we met, she said she has strong influence and right connections with the Bureau of Customs and she has brokerage." (p. 7, tsn Sept. 24, 1990)
"She sweet-talked me and was able to convince me. . . . She told me that it will take only three working days, then it will be released. . . . She was able to convince me by her sweet-talk. . . . I agreed and when August 28, I gave out some money to her . . . P400,000.00 cash. . . ." (pp. 11-13, id.)
"Because Your Honor I was convinced by her sweet words.
. . . she just convinced me of her sweet word. . . . Yes, Your Honor. She said that she have the right influence and connections. So I was convinced by her. . . . I would just pay for the storage and demurrage and the money would be multiplied by two (2)." (pp. 7-9, tsn Oct. 1990)
"What she says was if I gave her the money it will doubled, my money will be double. . . . She (just) told me to produce money. She told me she had influence and connection. That was our transaction." (p. 11, id.).
"Her participation was her influence." (p. 29, id.)
The elements of estafa are as follows: (1) that the accused defrauded another (a) by abuse of confidence, or (b) by means of deceit; and (2) that damage or prejudice capable of pecuniary estimation is caused to the offended party or third party.
Petitioner's deceit through false pretenses is clearly shown by her having assured private complainant that she "possessed power, influence and qualifications" to cause the release of the five (5) container vans of used engines. She made private complainant believe that his money would be used to pay for storage and demurrage fees with the Bureau of Customs, and yet she could not produce any proof that she had actually paid the amount to said government office. As found by the respondent Court:
In fact, another cogent piece of evidence of the deception practiced by appellant on private complainant is that while she claimed that she paid the latter's money to the Bureau of Customs as demurrage and storage charges on the five (5) container vans in question, when pressed by the lower court to produce the corresponding receipts, all she could show at the next hearing was a receipt for P266,027.50 for the payment of storage charges on five containers to 7-R Port Services, Inc. on September 8, 1989 (Exh. "7"). But according to this receipt, the consignee of the containers on which storage charges were paid was the "Ever Sun Coml (Commercial) Trading", and that the broker of the shipment was "same", meaning, also Ever Sun Comml. Trading. The brokerage of which appellant was the general manager was B. Gardiola Customs Brokerage (Exh. "D"). Obviously, then, the receipt for storage charges Exh. "7" does not refer to any transaction that appellant had as broker, and certainly, it had nothing to do with the five (5) container vans involved in this case, and this is borne out by the fact that appellant never mentioned in her entire testimony that the consignee of said five (5) container vans in question was Ever Sun Coml. Trading. On the other hand, she claimed that she was the broker of the importer of said five (5) container vans. If she was, why was she unable to present any papers like the bill of lading and other shipping documents covering said shipment?
Second Issue: Fraudulent Design Established
From the above, the ineludible conclusion is that petitioner received the money with no intention of facilitating the release of the container vans and the car. Obviously, her representation that she possessed influence was actually false and was resorted to by her to deceive and inveigle the naive complainant into parting with his money. In estafa by means of deceit under subdivision 2(a) of Article 315, the pretense of the accused that he possesses power or influence is false.
Private complainant's testimony cannot be discredited merely because he initially admitted that the money would be used for obtaining used engines, but later on claimed that said money would be used to pay storage and demurrage fees. Petitioner herself admitted that she had convinced the offended party to provide money to secure the delivery of 832 pieces of used gasoline engines and spare parts contained in one van.
When this agreement fell through, private complainant, by petitioner's fraudulent pretensions of alleged possession of power and influence over the government authorities, was again persuaded to part with the additional sums of P100,000.00, P140,000.00 and P175,000.00 on different occasions, in addition to the P300,000.00 he had earlier advanced. The amount defrauded totalled P715,000.00, supposedly used in payment of storage and demurrage fees of the five (5) container vans and one (1) Mercedes Benz car.
From the above narration, we are fully convinced that both the fraudulent design utilized by the petitioner, as well as the offense itself, had been proven beyond reasonable doubt. The act committed by petitioner constitutes the crime of estafa defined and punished under Article 315, par 2 (a) of the Revised Penal Code.
The penalty for estafa depends on the amount defrauded. Article 315 of the Revised Penal Code provides that "the penalty of prision correccional in its maximum period to prision mayor in its minimum period (or imprisonment ranging from 4 years, 2 months and 1 day to 8 years), if the amount of the fraud is over P12,000.00 but does not exceed P22,000.00 pesos, and if such amount exceeds the latter sum, the penalty provided in this paragraph shall be imposed in its maximum period (6 years, 8 months and 21 days to 8 years), adding one year for each additional P10,000.00 pesos; but the total penalty which may be imposed shall not exceed twenty years. In such case, and in connection with the accessory penalties which may be imposed and for the purpose of the other provisions of this Code, the penalty shall be termed prision mayor or reclusion temporal, as the case may be."
Inasmuch as the amount of P715,000.00 is P693,000.00 more than the abovementioned benchmark of P22,000.00, then, adding one year for each additional P10,000.00, the maximum period of 6 years, 8 months and 21 days to 8 years of prision mayor minimum would be increased by 69 years, as computed by the trial court. But the law categorically declares that the maximum penalty should be not more than 20 years. The maximum penalty then shall not exceed 20 years of reclusion temporal. Under the Indeterminate Sentence Law, the minimum term of the indeterminate penalty should be within the range of the penalty next lower in degree to that prescribed by the Code for the offense committed, which is prision correccional. Finding no error in the penalty proposed by the Solicitor General and imposed by the respondent Court, we thus sustain it.
WHEREFORE, premises considered, the petition is hereby DENIED for utter lack of merit, and the Decision appealed from is AFFIRMED in toto.
Narvasa, C.J., Davide, Jr., Melo and Francisco, JJ., concur.
1 In CA-G.R. CR No. 10671; rollo, pp. 21-33.
2 Fourth Division, composed of J. Alicia V. Sempio Diy, ponente, and JJ. Oscar M. Herrera and Artemon D. Luna, concurring.
3 Rollo, pp. 14-15.
4 Ibid., pp. 21-22.
5 Regional Trial Court of Quezon City, Branch 89, presided by Judge Rodolfo A. Ortiz.
6 Rollo, pp. 22-25.
7 Ibid., p. 26.
8 Ibid., p. 32.
9 Ibid., pp. 35 & 37.
10 Ibid., p. 15.
11 In her Manifestation dated January 11, 1993, petitioner manifested that she was "adopting her petition as memorandum in the above-entitled case."
12 G.R. No. 106472, August 7, 1996.
13 Gobonseng, Jr. vs. Court of Appeals, 246 SCRA 472, July 17, 1995.
14 Co vs. Court of Appeals, 247 SCRA 195, August 11, 1995.
15 People vs. Bautista, 241 SCRA 216, 222, February 9, 1995.
16 Rollo, p. 31.
17 United States vs. Adriatico, 7 Phil. 187, 189 (1906).
18 TSN, October 5, 1990, pp. 29-42.
19 People vs. Bautista, supra, at p. 223.