G. R. No. 146238 - December 7, 2001
MA. ELENA LAGMAN, petitioner,
This is a petition for review on certiorari under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court of the decision of the Court of Appeals dated April 24, 2000 in CA-G.R.. CR No. 20998 which affirmed in toto the decision of the Regional Trial Court, Branch 157, Pasig City, dated June 27, 1996 finding herein accused-petitioner guilty beyond reasonable doubt of six counts of violation of Batas Pambansa Bilang 22, otherwise known as the Bouncing Checks Law, as well as the Order of May 26, 1997 modifying the judgment and providing for civil indemnification.
The antecedent facts as found by the trial court are as follows:
Accused-petitioner was charged with thirty-five counts for violation of B.P. 22. Twenty-nine of these charges were docketed as Criminal Cases Nos. 73071 to 73104 before the Regional Trial Court, Branch 157, Pasig City, and six counts, Criminal Cases Nos. 92270 to 92275, were filed before another branch of the Regional Trial Court.
On arraignment, accused-petitioner entered a plea of "Not Guilty" to all the charges. Thereafter, Criminal Cases Nos. 73071 to 73084 were dismissed. Criminal Cases Nos. 92270 to 92275 were later consolidated with the remaining twenty cases pending before Branch 157.
On June 27, 1996, a Joint Judgment was rendered by the trial court acquitting accused-petitioner in Criminal Cases Nos. 73085 to 73104 because the checks subject of these twenty cases were either paid or replaced by other checks. Accused-petitioner, however, was found guilty in Criminal Cases Nos. 92270-92275. The dispositive portion of the Joint Judgment states:
On motion by the private complainant, the judgment was modified in an Order dated May 26, 1997 imposing civil indemnification in addition to the penalty of imprisonment and fine and ordering accused petitioner to pay attorney's fees, to wit:
WHEREFORE, as prayed for by the private complainant, the joint judgment, dated June 27, 1996, is hereby amended or modified in that the accused is hereby also ordered: (1) to indemnify the private complainant, Delia Almarines, in the following amounts:
and (2) to pay to the complainant the sum of P20,000.00 as reimbursement for attorney's fees.3
Not satisfied with the foregoing judgment and order, accused petitioner brought the case to the Court of Appeals. On April 24, 2000, the Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment as well as the order of the trial court in toto. Accused-petitioner, thus, found her way to this Court through the present petition for review assigning the following errors:
Accused-petitioner claims that the six checks subject of the present cases were issued as mere guarantees in replacement of several bounced checks she had previously issued, and private complainant was sufficiently warned that these checks were not to be deposited or encashed. Relying on the case of Magno vs. Court of Appeals,4 accused petitioner maintains that she cannot be held liable because she expressly and repeatedly informed private complainant that she would not be able to maintain sufficient funds in or credit with the drawee banks for the payment of the checks due to financial constraints. Accused-petitioner also avers that she was not accorded due process as she was not given the opportunity to adduce evidence on her behalf and the judgment was based solely on the evidence for the prosecution. Finally, accused-petitioner invokes the application of Supreme Court Administrative Circular No. 12-20005 which allegedly deleted the penalty of imprisonment for violation of B.P. Blg. 22.
We find no merit in the petition.
It is a well-settled rule that findings of fact of the trial court, especially when affirmed by the Court of Appeals, are accorded the highest degree of respect and generally will not be disturbed on appeal.6 In the case under review, accused-petitioner failed to substantially show that both the trial court and the Court of Appeals overlooked certain facts and circumstances which justify a departure from this general principle.
The act sought to be prevented by Batas Pambansa Bilang 22, or the Bouncing Check's Law, is the act of making and issuing a check with the knowledge that at the time of issue, the drawer does not have sufficient funds in or credit with the bank for payment and the check was subsequently dishonored upon presentment.7 What the law punishes is the issuance of a worthless check and not the purpose for which such check was issued nor the terms or conditions relating to its issuance.8 Accused-petitioner's contention that the checks were merely issued to guarantee payment of her obligation to private complainant is not persuasive. As held in the case of Que v. People of the Philippines,9 B.P. Blg. 22 "applies even in cases where dishonored checks are issued merely in the form of a deposit or guarantee x x x and does not make any distinction as to whether the checks within its contemplation are issued in payment of an obligation or merely to guarantee the said obligation."10
The records of the case belie accused-petitioner's allegation that the checks were merely issued as guarantees. Evidence shows that the six checks subject of the present appeal were issued by herein accused-petitioner to private respondent in the sala of Judge Domingo Garcia of the Pasig RTC, Branch 157 in settlement of the 29 cases pending before the said court which arose from the issuance of 29 bounced checks. When these six replacement checks also bounced, they became the subject of six criminal cases which were filed before Judge Trampe. Later on, these six cases were consolidated with the 29 cases before Judge Garcia. During trial, counsels for herein accused-petitioner and private respondent were in agreement that these six checks were issued in settlement of some of the pending 29 cases:
Based on the records, therefore, the six checks were issued in partial settlement of the 29 B.P. Blg. 22 cases pending before Judge Garcia. We find nothing in the records that would show that these six checks were issued as mere guarantees. Accused-petitioner herself acknowledged that these eight (8) postdated checks "were issued as replacements of the previous checks" which bounced upon presentment.12
There is, thus, overwhelming evidence contradicting accused-petitioner's posture that the six checks subject of this appeal were mere guarantees.
The case of Magno v. Court of Appeals13 relied upon by accused-petitioner, does not find application to the present case. In Magno, we held that there was no violation of the bouncing checks law because there was evidence that complainant was told by the drawer that he did not have sufficient funds in the bank. The drawer, from the very beginning, never hid the fact that he did not have funds with which to put up the warranty deposit and openly intimated the same to complainant. Although the ruling in Magno was reiterated in the case of Idos v. Court of Appeals,14 again, we note that in Idos, petitioner repeatedly notified the complainant of the insufficiency of funds. In both cases, the complainant was duly notified by the drawer of the insufficiency of funds. It also serves to emphasize that in Idos, petitioner's acquittal was not based on complainant's knowledge that petitioner did not have sufficient funds in the bank. Petitioner was acquitted because:
In the case under consideration, accused-petitioner failed to adduce any evidence to substantiate her claim that private respondent knew that she (accused-petitioner) had difficulty maintaining sufficient funds in or credit with the bank. On the other hand, private respondent during cross examination categorically denied having been advised by accused petitioner not to deposit the checks:
Q When she issued to you postdated checks, you were informed that also at the moment that she has no fund.
A She did not advice me not to deposit the checks and it is but natural that the checks having been issued to me when the date on the check comes I have to deposit them.16
There is likewise no merit to accused-petitioner's allegation that she was denied due process because she was not given the opportunity to adduce evidence on her behalf. Records do not bear out hesitance. The pre-trial dates scheduled on April 10, 1990, August 17, 1990 and October 18, 1990 were postponed on motion of counsel for accused-petitioner.17 The hearings for the reception of evidence for the prosecution were also postponed several times on motion of accused-petitioner. A total of twenty-three motions for postponement were filed by her.18 Moreover, orders of arrest, as well as citations for contempt, against accused-petitioner and her counsel were issued three times by the trial court on April 2, 1992, September 3, 1992 and November 12, 1993 for their repeated failure to appear during the trial.19 Thus, in the hearing of November 12, 1993, accused-petitioner's bail bond was forfeited in favor of the government.20
On the hearings for the reception of evidence for the defense, accused-petitioner, through counsel, also filed several motions for postponements. On September 2, 1994, the trial court cancelled the hearings on September 9 and 16, 1994 on motion by counsel for accused-petitioner.21 In its order dated September 2, 1994, the trial court warned accused-petitioner and counsel that no further postponement will be granted.
On September 23, 1994, the trial court, again, re-set the hearing for the reception of evidence for the defense upon the request of the counsel de oficio for accused-petitioner claiming that the latter was indisposed. Accused-petitioner and counsel de parte were again warned that they were "running out of time for the reception of evidence for their defense."22
Another urgent ex-parte motion to cancel hearing was again filed by counsel for accused-petitioner on November 11, 1994. The trial court granted the motion warning that "if the accused fails to appear and to present her evidence on said date, her right to do so shall be deemed waived, and the trial of this case considered terminated."23
On November 18, 1994, accused-petitioner requested for another postponement claiming that both counsels de oficio and de parte had prior commitments. The trial court, notwithstanding its earlier warnings, granted accused-petitioner's request and reiterated such warnings.24
On January 13, 1995, the trial court entered another order granting a motion for postponement filed by counsel for the accused-petitioner and re-set the hearing to February 3, 1995.25
Finally, on February 3, 1995, accused-petitioner failed to appear and to present evidence so the trial court issued an order terminating trial and considered accused-petitioner's continuous failure to appear as a waiver of her right to present evidence in her defense. The dispositive portion of the trial court's order reads:
Accused-appellant's failure to adduce her evidence is, thus, attributable not to the trial court but to herself due to her repeated non-appearance and non-participation in the proceedings below without any valid excuse.27
In view of the foregoing, both the trial court and the Court of Appeals correctly found accused-petitioner guilty beyond reasonable doubt of violation of B.P. 22. However, in the recent cases of Eduardo Vaca v. Court of Appeals,28 and Rosa Lim v. People of the Philippines29 as well as Administrative Circular No. 12-2000 issued by the Court on November 21, 2000, the Court pronounced a policy on the matter of imposition of penalties for violation of the Bouncing Checks Law.
Administrative Circular No. 12-2000 provides:
Thus, the judge may, in the exercise of sound discretion, determine whether the imposition of a fine alone would best serve the interests of justice, or whether forbearing to impose imprisonment would depreciate the seriousness of the offense, work violence on the social order, or otherwise be contrary to the imperatives of justice.30 In Vaca, the Court stated:
Thus, in accordance with the aforementioned rulings and Adm. Circular No. 12-2000, where the circumstances of both the offense and the offender clearly indicate good faith or a clear mistake of fact without taint of negligence, the penalty of fine alone may be considered sufficient.
In these cases under consideration, the Court takes significant note of the fact that accused-petitioner had not been previously charged or convicted of violation of B.P. Blg. 22. Accused-petitioner made substantial payments on her obligations and returned several pieces of jewelry to private complainant. Moreover, of the eight checks she issued, two were made good by her. These circumstances taken together show her honest efforts to fulfill her financial obligations. The Court, therefore, deems it proper to delete the penalty of imprisonment in these cases and instead, to impose a fine equivalent to the value of the subject checks is considered appropriate.
WHEREFORE, the decision of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. CR No. 20998 is AFFIRMED with the modification that the sentence of imprisonment is deleted. Accused-petitioner is instead hereby ORDERED to pay the following fines for each violation:
Davide, Jr., C . J ., Puno, Pardo and Ynares-Santiago, JJ ., concur.
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