G. R. No. 125297 - June 6, 2003
ELVIRA YU OH, Petitioner, vs. COURT OF APPEALS and PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, Respondents.
Before this Court is a petition for review on certiorari of the decision1 of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. No. CR No. 16390, promulgated on January 30, 1996, affirming the conviction of petitioner Elvira Yu Oh by the Regional Trial Court (RTC), Branch 99, Quezon City and the resolution dated May 30, 1996 which denied her motion for reconsideration.
The facts as borne by the records are as follows:
Petitioner purchased pieces of jewelry from Solid Gold International Traders, Inc., a company engaged in jewelry trading. Due to her failure to pay the purchase price, Solid Gold filed civil cases2 against her for specific performance before the Regional Trial Court of Pasig. On September 17, 1990, petitioner and Solid Gold, through its general manager Joaquin Novales III, entered into a compromise agreement to settle said civil cases.3 The compromise agreement, as approved by the trial court, provided that petitioner shall issue a total of ninety-nine post-dated checks in the amount of
On October 5, 1992, Novales filed ten separate Informations, docketed as Criminal Cases Nos. 92-26243 to 92-36252 before the RTC of Quezon City charging petitioner with violation of Batas Pambansa Bilang 22, otherwise known as the Bouncing Checks Law.5 Except for the dates and the check numbers, the Informations uniformly allege:
The cases were consolidated and subsequently raffled to Branch 99 of the said RTC. Upon arraignment, accused pleaded not guilty.7 Trial then ensued. On December 22, 1993, the RTC rendered its decision, the dispositive portion of which reads:
Petitioner appealed to the Court of Appeals alleging that: the RTC has no jurisdiction over the offense charged in the ten informations; it overlooked the fact that no notice of dishonor had been given to the appellant as drawer of the dishonored checks; it failed to consider that the reason of "closed account" for the dishonor of the ten checks in these cases is not the statutory cause to warrant prosecution, much more a conviction, under B.P. Blg. 22; it failed to consider that there is only one act which caused the offense, if any, and not ten separate cases; and it disregarded the definition of what a 'check' is under Sec. 185 of the Negotiable Instruments Law.9
Finding the appeal to be without merit, the Court of Appeals affirmed the decision of the trial court with costs against appellant.
Hence, herein petition raising the following errors:
Simply worded, the issues of this case may be stated as follows: (1) whether or not the appellate court erred in not granting retroactive effect to Republic Act No. 769110 in view of Art. 22 of the Revised Penal Code (RPC); (2) whether or not notice of dishonor is dispensable in this case; and (3) whether or not the appellate court erred in construing B.P. Blg. 22.
We will resolve the first and third issues before considering the second issue.
First issue Whether or not the Court of Appeals erred in not giving retroactive effect to R.A. 7690 in view of Article 22 of the RPC.
Petitioner argues that: the failure of the appellate court to give retroactive application to R.A. 7691 is a violation of Art. 22 of the Revised Penal Code which provides that penal laws shall have retroactive effect insofar as they favor the person guilty of the felony; R.A. 7691 is a penal law in the sense that it affects the jurisdiction of the court to take cognizance of criminal cases; taken separately, the offense covered by each of the ten Informations in this case falls within the exclusive original jurisdiction of the Municipal Trial Court under Sec. 2 of R.A. 7691; and the Court of Appeals is guilty of judicial legislation in stating that after the arraignment of petitioner, said cases could no longer be transferred to the MTC without violating the rules on double jeopardy, because that is not so provided in R.A. 7691.11
The Solicitor General, in its Comment, counters that the arguments of petitioner are baseless contending that: penal laws are those which define crimes and provides for their punishment; laws defining the jurisdiction of courts are substantive in nature and not procedural for they do not refer to the manner of trying cases but to the authority of the courts to hear and decide certain and definite cases in the various instances of which they are susceptible; R.A. No. 7691 is a substantive law and not a penal law as nowhere in its provisions does it define a crime neither does it provide a penalty of any kind; the purpose of enacting R.A. No. 7691 is laid down in the opening sentence thereof as "An Act Expanding the Jurisdiction of the Municipal Trial Courts, Municipal Circuit Trial Courts and the Metropolitan Trial Court" whereby it reapportions the jurisdiction of said courts to cover certain civil and criminal case, erstwhile tried exclusively by the Regional Trial Courts; consequently, Art. 22 of the RPC finds no application to the case at bar; jurisdiction is determined by the law in force at the time of the filing of the complaint, and once acquired, jurisdiction is not affected by subsequent legislative enactments placing jurisdiction in another tribunal; in this case, the RTC was vested with jurisdiction to try petitioner's cases when the same were filed in October 1992; at that time, R.A. No. 7691 was not yet effective;12 in so far as the retroactive effect of R.A. No. 7691 is concerned, that same is limited only to pending civil cases that have not reached pre-trial stage as provided for in Section 7 thereof and as clarified by this Court in People vs. Yolanda Velasco13, where it was held: "[a] perusal of R.A. No. 7691 will show that its retroactive provisions apply only to civil cases that have not yet reached the pre-trial stage. Neither from an express proviso nor by implication can it be understood as having retroactive application to criminal cases pending or decided by the RTC prior to its effectivity."14
On this point, the Court fully agrees with the Solicitor General and holds that Article 22 of the Revised Penal Code finds no application to the case at bar.
Said provision reads:
A penal law, as defined by this Court, is an act of the legislature that prohibits certain acts and establishes penalties for its violations. It also defines crime, treats of its nature and provides for its punishment.15 R.A. No. 7691 does not prohibit certain acts or provides penalties for its violation; neither does it treat of the nature of crimes and its punishment. Consequently, R.A. No. 7691 is not a penal law, and therefore, Art. 22 of the RPC does not apply in the present case.
B. P. Blg. 22, which took effect on April 24, 1979, provides the penalty of imprisonment of not less than thirty days but not more than one year or by a fine of not less than but not more then double the amount of the check which fine shall in no case exceed
R.A. No. 7691 which took effect on June 15, 1994, amended B.P. Blg. 129, and vested on the Metropolitan, Municipal and Municipal Circuit Trial Courts jurisdiction to try cases punishable by imprisonment of not more than six (6) years.16 Since R.A. No. 7691 vests jurisdiction on courts, it is apparent that said law is substantive.17
In the case of Cang vs. Court of Appeals,18 this Court held that "jurisdiction being a matter of substantive law, the established rule is that the statute in force at the time of the commencement of the action determines the jurisdiction of the court."19 R.A. No. 7691 was not yet in force at the time of the commencement of the cases in the trial court. It took effect only during the pendency of the appeal before the Court of Appeals.20 There is therefore no merit in the claim of petitioner that R.A. No. 7691 should be retroactively applied to this case and the same be remanded to the MTC. The Court has held that a "law vesting additional jurisdiction in the court cannot be given retroactive effect."21
Third issue Whether or not the Court of Appeals erroneously construed B.P. Blg. 22.
Petitioner insists that: penal statutes must be strictly construed and where there is any reasonable doubt, it must always be resolved in favor of the accused;22 the Court of Appeals, in construing that B.P. Blg. 22 embraces cases of "no funds" or "closed accounts" when the express language of B.P. Blg. 22 penalizes only the issuance of checks that are subsequently dishonored by the drawee bank for "insufficiency" of funds or credit, has enlarged by implication the meaning of the statute which amounts to judicial legislation;23 a postdated check, not being drawn payable on demand, is technically not a special kind of a bill of exchange, called check, but an ordinary bill of exchange payable at a fixed date, which is the date indicated on the face of the postdated check, hence, the instrument is still valid and the obligation covered thereby, but only civilly and not criminally;24 the trial court also erroneously cited a portion in the case of Lozano vs. Martinez25 that the "language of B.P. Blg. 22 is broad enough to cover all kinds of checks, whether present dated or postdated, or whether issued in payment of pre-existing obligations or given in mutual or simultaneous exchange for something of value," since the same is mere obiter dictum;26 in the interpretation of the meaning of a "check", where the law is clear and unambiguous, the law must be taken as it is, devoid of judicial addition or subtraction.27
The Solicitor General counters that a postdated check is still a check and its being a postdated instrument does not necessarily make it a bill of exchange "payable at a fixed or determinable future time" since it is still paid on demand on the date indicated therein or thereafter just like an ordinary check.28 It also points out that the doctrine laid down in Lozano vs. Martinez was reiterated in People vs. Nitafan,29 hence, it can no longer be argued that the statement in the case of Lozano regarding the scope of "checks" is mere obiter dictum.
Again, we agree with the Solicitor General and find petitioner's claim to be without merit.
The rationale behind B.P. Blg. 22 was initially explained by the Court in the landmark case of Lozano vs. Martinez30 where we held that:
The same is reiterated in Cueme vs. People33 where we pronounced that:
In Recuerdo vs. People, this Court also held that the terms and conditions surrounding the issuance of the checks are irrelevant since its primordial intention is to ensure the stability and commercial value of checks as being virtual substitutes for currency.35
Petitioner's claim that cases of "closed accounts" are not included in the coverage of B.P. Blg. 22 has no merit considering the clear intent of the law, which is to discourage the issuance of worthless checks due to its harmful effect to the public. This Court, in Lozano vs. Martinez, was explicit in ruling that the language of B.P. Blg. 22 is broad enough to cover all kinds of checks, whether present dated or postdated, or whether issued in payment of pre-existing obligations or given in mutual or simultaneous exchange for something of value.36
In People vs. Nitafan,37 the Supreme Court reiterated this point and held that:
In this light, it is easy to see that the claim of petitioner that B.P. Blg. 22 does not include 'postdated checks' and cases of 'closed accounts' has no leg to stand on. The term "closed accounts" is within the meaning of the phrase "does not have sufficient funds in or credit with the drawee bank".
Anent the second issue: whether or not notice of dishonor is dispensable in the case at bar. Petitioner failed to show any cogent reason for us to disturb the findings of the RTC and the Court of Appeals.
B.P. Blg. 22 or the Bouncing Check's Law seeks to prevent the act of making and issuing checks 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 checks were subsequently dishonored upon presentment.39 To be convicted thereunder, the following elements must be proved:
For liability to attach under B.P. Blg. 22, it is not enough that the prosecution establishes that checks were issued and that the same were subsequently dishonored. The prosecution must also prove that the issuer, at the time of the check's issuance, had knowledge that he did not have enough funds or credit in the bank of payment thereof upon its presentment.41
Since the second element involves a state of mind which is difficult to establish, Section 2 of B.P. Blg. 22 created a prima facie presumption of such knowledge, as follows:
Based on this section, the presumption that the issuer had knowledge of the insufficiency of funds is brought into existence only after it is proved that the issuer had received a notice of dishonor and that within five days from receipt thereof, he failed to pay the amount of the check or to make arrangement for its payment.42 The presumption or prima facie evidence as provided in this section cannot arise, if such notice of non-payment by the drawee bank is not sent to the maker or drawer, or if there is no proof as to when such notice was received by the drawer, since there would simply be no way of reckoning the crucial 5-day period.43
In this case, it is not disputed that checks were issued by petitioner and said checks were subsequently dishonored. The question however is, was petitioner furnished a notice of dishonor? If not, is it sufficient justification to exonerate petitioner from her criminal and civil liabilities for issuing the bouncing checks?
The trial court ruled that the second element is present because:
Although the trial court in its decision, mentioned that herein petitioner received notices of dishonor, nowhere in the records is there proof that the prosecution ever presented evidence that petitioner received or was furnished a notice of dishonor. The notices of dishonor that were presented in court and marked as Exhibits "D-2", "E-2", "F-2", "G-2", "H-2", "I-2", "J-2", "K-2", "L-2", "C-2"45 were all sent to the private complainant, Solid Gold, and not to petitioner. In convicting petitioner, the trial court, gave probative weight on the admission of petitioner in her Counter-Affidavit which she submitted during the preliminary investigation that at the time of issuance of the subject checks, she was aware and even told private complainant that the checks might not be able to cover the amount stated therein.
The Court of Appeals sustained the RTC, to wit:
Based on the law and existing jurisprudence, we find that the appellate court erred in convicting petitioner.
In cases for violation of B.P. Blg. 22, it is necessary that the prosecution prove that the issuer had received a notice of dishonor. Since service of notice is an issue, the person alleging that the notice was served must prove the fact of service. Basic also is the doctrine that in criminal cases, the quantum of proof required is proof beyond reasonable doubt. Hence, for cases of B.P. Blg. 22 there should be clear proof of notice.47
Indeed, this requirement cannot be taken lightly because Section 2 provides for an opportunity for the drawer to effect full payment of the amount appearing on the check, within five banking days from notice of dishonor. The absence of said notice therefore deprives an accused of an opportunity to preclude criminal prosecution. In other words, procedural due process demands that a notice of dishonor be actually served on petitioner. In the case at bar, appellant has a right to demand and the basic postulate of fairness requires that the notice of dishonor be actually sent to and received by her to afford her to opportunity to aver prosecution under B.P. Blg. 22.48
The Solicitor General contends that notice of dishonor is dispensable in this case considering that the cause of the dishonor of the checks was "Account Closed" and therefore, petitioner already knew that the checks will bounce anyway. This argument has no merit. The Court has decided numerous cases where checks were dishonored for the reason, "Account Closed"49 and we have explicitly held in said cases that "it is essential for the maker or drawer to be notified of the dishonor of her check, so she could pay the value thereof or make arrangements for its payment within the period prescribed by law"50 and omission or neglect on the part of the prosecution to prove that the accused received such notice of dishonor is fatal to its cause.51
A perusal of the testimony of the prosecution witness Joaquin Novales III, General Manager of complainant Solid Gold, discloses that no personal demands were made on appellant before the filing of the complaints against her.52 Thus, absent a clear showing that petitioner actually knew of the dishonor of her checks and was given the opportunity to make arrangements for payment as provided for under the law, we cannot with moral certainty convict her of violation of B.P. Blg. 22. The failure of the prosecution to prove that petitioner was given the requisite notice of dishonor is a clear ground for her acquittal.53
Moreover, as understood by the trial court itself in the herein aforequoted portion of its decision, General Manager Novales knew of the non-availability of sufficient funds when appellant issued the subject checks to him. This Court has held that there is no violation of B.P. 22 if complainant was told by the drawer that he has no sufficient funds in the bank.54
For these reasons, we reverse the ruling of the Court of Appeals affirming the trial court's conviction of petitioner for violation of B.P. Blg. 22. This is without prejudice, however, to her civil liability towards private complainant Solid Gold in the amount of
WHEREFORE, the assailed Decision and Resolution of the Court of Appeals are hereby REVERSED and SET ASIDE. Petitioner Elvira Yu Oh is ACQUITTED of the offense of violation of B.P. Blg. 22 on ten counts for insufficiency of evidence. However, she is ordered to pay complainant Solid Gold International Traders, Inc. the total amount of Five Hundred Thousand Pesos (
Bellosillo, Quisumbing, and Callejo, Sr., JJ., concur.
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