G. R. No. 149275 - September 27, 2004
VICKY C. TY, Petitioner, vs. PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, Respondent.
D E C I S I O N
Petitioner Vicky C. Ty ("Ty") filed the instant Petition for Review under Rule 45, seeking to set aside the Decision1 of the Court of Appeals Eighth Division in CA-G.R. CR No. 20995, promulgated on 31 July 2001. The Decision affirmed with modification the judgment of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Manila, Branch 19, dated 21 April 1997, finding her guilty of seven (7) counts of violation of Batas Pambansa Blg. 222 (B.P. 22), otherwise known as the Bouncing Checks Law.
This case stemmed from the filing of seven (7) Informations for violation of B.P. 22 against Ty before the RTC of Manila. The Informations were docketed as Criminal Cases No. 93-130459 to No. 93-130465. The accusatory portion of the Information in Criminal Case No. 93-130465 reads as follows:
The other Informations are similarly worded except for the number of the checks and dates of issue. The data are hereunder itemized as follows:
The cases were consolidated and jointly tried. At her arraignment, Ty pleaded not guilty.5
The evidence for the prosecution shows that Tys mother Chua Lao So Un was confined at the Manila Doctors Hospital (hospital) from 30 October 1990 until 4 June 1992. Being the patients daughter, Ty signed the "Acknowledgment of Responsibility for Payment" in the Contract of Admission dated 30 October 1990.6 As of 4 June 1992, the Statement of Account7 shows the total liability of the mother in the amount of
For her defense, Ty claimed that she issued the checks because of "an uncontrollable fear of a greater injury." She averred that she was forced to issue the checks to obtain release for her mother whom the hospital inhumanely and harshly treated and would not discharge unless the hospital bills are paid. She alleged that her mother was deprived of room facilities, such as the air-condition unit, refrigerator and television set, and subject to inconveniences such as the cutting off of the telephone line, late delivery of her mothers food and refusal to change the latters gown and bedsheets. She also bewailed the hospitals suspending medical treatment of her mother. The "debasing treatment," she pointed out, so affected her mothers mental, psychological and physical health that the latter contemplated suicide if she would not be discharged from the hospital. Fearing the worst for her mother, and to comply with the demands of the hospital, Ty was compelled to sign a promissory note, open an account with Metrobank and issue the checks to effect her mothers immediate discharge.11
Giving full faith and credence to the evidence offered by the prosecution, the trial court found that Ty issued the checks subject of the case in payment of the hospital bills of her mother and rejected the theory of the defense.12 Thus, on 21 April 1997, the trial court rendered a Decision finding Ty guilty of seven (7) counts of violation of B.P. 22 and sentencing her to a prison term. The dispositive part of the Decision reads:
Ty interposed an appeal from the Decision of the trial court. Before the Court of Appeals, Ty reiterated her defense that she issued the checks "under the impulse of an uncontrollable fear of a greater injury or in avoidance of a greater evil or injury." She also argued that the trial court erred in finding her guilty when evidence showed there was absence of valuable consideration for the issuance of the checks and the payee had knowledge of the insufficiency of funds in the account. She protested that the trial court should not have applied the law mechanically, without due regard to the principles of justice and equity.14
In its Decision dated 31 July 2001, the appellate court affirmed the judgment of the trial court with modification. It set aside the penalty of imprisonment and instead sentenced Ty "to pay a fine of sixty thousand pesos (
In its assailed Decision, the Court of Appeals rejected Tys defenses of involuntariness in the issuance of the checks and the hospitals knowledge of her checking accounts lack of funds. It held that B.P. 22 makes the mere act of issuing a worthless check punishable as a special offense, it being a malum prohibitum. What the law punishes is the issuance of a bouncing check and not the purpose for which it was issued nor the terms and conditions relating to its issuance.16
Neither was the Court of Appeals convinced that there was no valuable consideration for the issuance of the checks as they were issued in payment of the hospital bills of Tys mother.17
In sentencing Ty to pay a fine instead of a prison term, the appellate court applied the case of Vaca v. Court of Appeals18 wherein this Court declared that in determining the penalty imposed for violation of B.P. 22, the philosophy underlying the Indeterminate Sentence Law should be observed, i.e., redeeming valuable human material and preventing unnecessary deprivation of personal liberty and economic usefulness, with due regard to the protection of the social order.19
Petitioner now comes to this Court basically alleging the same issues raised before the Court of Appeals. More specifically, she ascribed errors to the appellate court based on the following grounds:
In its Memorandum,20 the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG), citing jurisprudence, contends that a check issued as an evidence of debt, though not intended to be presented for payment, has the same effect as an ordinary check; hence, it falls within the ambit of B.P. 22. And when a check is presented for payment, the drawee bank will generally accept the same, regardless of whether it was issued in payment of an obligation or merely to guarantee said obligation. What the law punishes is the issuance of a bouncing check, not the purpose for which it was issued nor the terms and conditions relating to its issuance. The mere act of issuing a worthless check is malum prohibitum.21
We find the petition to be without merit and accordingly sustain Tys conviction.
Well-settled is the rule that the factual findings and conclusions of the trial court and the Court of Appeals are entitled to great weight and respect, and will not be disturbed on appeal in the absence of any clear showing that the trial court overlooked certain facts or circumstances which would substantially affect the disposition of the case.22 Jurisdiction of this Court over cases elevated from the Court of Appeals is limited to reviewing or revising errors of law ascribed to the Court of Appeals whose factual findings are conclusive, and carry even more weight when said court affirms the findings of the trial court, absent any showing that the findings are totally devoid of support in the record or that they are so glaringly erroneous as to constitute serious abuse of discretion.23
In the instant case, the Court discerns no compelling reason to reverse the factual findings arrived at by the trial court and affirmed by the Court of Appeals.
Ty does not deny having issued the seven (7) checks subject of this case. She, however, claims that the issuance of the checks was under the impulse of an uncontrollable fear of a greater injury or in avoidance of a greater evil or injury. She would also have the Court believe that there was no valuable consideration in the issuance of the checks.
However, except for the defenses claim of uncontrollable fear of a greater injury or avoidance of a greater evil or injury, all the grounds raised involve factual issues which are best determined by the trial court. And, as previously intimated, the trial court had in fact discarded the theory of the defense and rendered judgment accordingly.
Moreover, these arguments are a mere rehash of arguments unsuccessfully raised before the trial court and the Court of Appeals. They likewise put to issue factual questions already passed upon twice below, rather than questions of law appropriate for review under a Rule 45 petition.
The only question of law raised--whether the defense of uncontrollable fear is tenable to warrant her exemption from criminal liability--has to be resolved in the negative. For this exempting circumstance to be invoked successfully, the following requisites must concur: (1) existence of an uncontrollable fear; (2) the fear must be real and imminent; and (3) the fear of an injury is greater than or at least equal to that committed.24
It must appear that the threat that caused the uncontrollable fear is of such gravity and imminence that the ordinary man would have succumbed to it.25 It should be based on a real, imminent or reasonable fear for ones life or limb.26 A mere threat of a future injury is not enough. It should not be speculative, fanciful, or remote.27 A person invoking uncontrollable fear must show therefore that the compulsion was such that it reduced him to a mere instrument acting not only without will but against his will as well.28 It must be of such character as to leave no opportunity to the accused for escape.29
In this case, far from it, the fear, if any, harbored by Ty was not real and imminent. Ty claims that she was compelled to issue the checks--a condition the hospital allegedly demanded of her before her mother could be discharged--for fear that her mothers health might deteriorate further due to the inhumane treatment of the hospital or worse, her mother might commit suicide. This is speculative fear; it is not the uncontrollable fear contemplated by law.
To begin with, there was no showing that the mothers illness was so life-threatening such that her continued stay in the hospital suffering all its alleged unethical treatment would induce a well-grounded apprehension of her death. Secondly, it is not the laws intent to say that any fear exempts one from criminal liability much less petitioners flimsy fear that her mother might commit suicide. In other words, the fear she invokes was not impending or insuperable as to deprive her of all volition and to make her a mere instrument without will, moved exclusively by the hospitals threats or demands.
Ty has also failed to convince the Court that she was left with no choice but to commit a crime. She did not take advantage of the many opportunities available to her to avoid committing one. By her very own words, she admitted that the collateral or security the hospital required prior to the discharge of her mother may be in the form of postdated checks or jewelry.30 And if indeed she was coerced to open an account with the bank and issue the checks, she had all the opportunity to leave the scene to avoid involvement.
Moreover, petitioner had sufficient knowledge that the issuance of checks without funds may result in a violation of B.P. 22. She even testified that her counsel advised her not to open a current account nor issue postdated checks "because the moment I will not have funds it will be a big problem."31 Besides, apart from petitioners bare assertion, the record is bereft of any evidence to corroborate and bolster her claim that she was compelled or coerced to cooperate with and give in to the hospitals demands.
Ty likewise suggests in the prefatory statement of her Petition and Memorandum that the justifying circumstance of state of necessity under par. 4, Art. 11 of the Revised Penal Code may find application in this case.
We do not agree. The law prescribes the presence of three requisites to exempt the actor from liability under this paragraph: (1) that the evil sought to be avoided actually exists; (2) that the injury feared be greater than the one done to avoid it; (3) that there be no other practical and less harmful means of preventing it.32
In the instant case, the evil sought to be avoided is merely expected or anticipated. If the evil sought to be avoided is merely expected or anticipated or may happen in the future, this defense is not applicable.33 Ty could have taken advantage of an available option to avoid committing a crime. By her own admission, she had the choice to give jewelry or other forms of security instead of postdated checks to secure her obligation.
Moreover, for the defense of state of necessity to be availing, the greater injury feared should not have been brought about by the negligence or imprudence, more so, the willful inaction of the actor.34 In this case, the issuance of the bounced checks was brought about by Tys own failure to pay her mothers hospital bills.
The Court also thinks it rather odd that Ty has chosen the exempting circumstance of uncontrollable fear and the justifying circumstance of state of necessity to absolve her of liability. It would not have been half as bizarre had Ty been able to prove that the issuance of the bounced checks was done without her full volition. Under the circumstances, however, it is quite clear that neither uncontrollable fear nor avoidance of a greater evil or injury prompted the issuance of the bounced checks.
Parenthetically, the findings of fact in the Decision of the trial court in the Civil Case35 for damages filed by Tys mother against the hospital is wholly irrelevant for purposes of disposing the case at bench. While the findings therein may establish a claim for damages which, we may add, need only be supported by a preponderance of evidence, it does not necessarily engender reasonable doubt as to free Ty from liability.
As to the issue of consideration, it is presumed, upon issuance of the checks, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, that the same was issued for valuable consideration.36 Section 2437 of the Negotiable Instruments Law creates a presumption that every party to an instrument acquired the same for a consideration38 or for value.39 In alleging otherwise, Ty has the onus to prove that the checks were issued without consideration. She must present convincing evidence to overthrow the presumption.
A scrutiny of the records reveals that petitioner failed to discharge her burden of proof. "Valuable consideration may in general terms, be said to consist either in some right, interest, profit, or benefit accruing to the party who makes the contract, or some forbearance, detriment, loss or some responsibility, to act, or labor, or service given, suffered or undertaken by the other aide. Simply defined, valuable consideration means an obligation to give, to do, or not to do in favor of the party who makes the contract, such as the maker or indorser."40
In this case, Tys mother and sister availed of the services and the facilities of the hospital. For the care given to her kin, Ty had a legitimate obligation to pay the hospital by virtue of her relationship with them and by force of her signature on her mothers Contract of Admission acknowledging responsibility for payment, and on the promissory note she executed in favor of the hospital.
Anent Tys claim that the obligation to pay the hospital bills was not her personal obligation because she was not the patient, and therefore there was no consideration for the checks, the case of Bridges v. Vann, et al.41 tells us that "it is no defense to an action on a promissory note for the maker to say that there was no consideration which was beneficial to him personally; it is sufficient if the consideration was a benefit conferred upon a third person, or a detriment suffered by the promisee, at the instance of the promissor. It is enough if the obligee foregoes some right or privilege or suffers some detriment and the release and extinguishment of the original obligation of George Vann, Sr., for that of appellants meets the requirement. Appellee accepted one debtor in place of another and gave up a valid, subsisting obligation for the note executed by the appellants. This, of itself, is sufficient consideration for the new notes."
At any rate, the law punishes the mere act of issuing a bouncing check, not the purpose for which it was issued nor the terms and conditions relating to its issuance.42 B.P. 22 does not make any distinction as to whether the checks within its contemplation are issued in payment of an obligation or to merely guarantee the obligation.43 The thrust of the law is to prohibit the making of worthless checks and putting them into circulation.44 As this Court held in Lim v. People of the Philippines,45 "what is primordial is that such issued checks were worthless and the fact of its worthlessness is known to the appellant at the time of their issuance, a required element under B.P. Blg. 22."
The law itself creates a prima facie presumption of knowledge of insufficiency of funds. Section 2 of B.P. 22 provides:
Such knowledge is legally presumed from the dishonor of the checks for insufficiency of funds.46 If not rebutted, it suffices to sustain a conviction.47
Petitioner likewise opines that the payee was aware of the fact that she did not have sufficient funds with the drawee bank and such knowledge necessarily exonerates her liability.
The knowledge of the payee of the insufficiency or lack of funds of the drawer with the drawee bank is immaterial as deceit is not an essential element of an offense penalized by B.P. 22. The gravamen of the offense is the issuance of a bad check, hence, malice and intent in the issuance thereof is inconsequential.48
In addition, Ty invokes our ruling in Magno v. Court of Appeals49 wherein this Court inquired into the true nature of transaction between the drawer and the payee and finally acquitted the accused, to persuade the Court that the circumstances surrounding her case deserve special attention and do not warrant a strict and mechanical application of the law.
Petitioners reliance on the case is misplaced. The material operative facts therein obtaining are different from those established in the instant petition. In the 1992 case, the bounced checks were issued to cover a "warranty deposit" in a lease contract, where the lessor-supplier was also the financier of the deposit. It was a modus operandi whereby the supplier was able to sell or lease the goods while privately financing those in desperate need so they may be accommodated. The maker of the check thus became an unwilling victim of a lease agreement under the guise of a lease-purchase agreement. The maker did not benefit at all from the deposit, since the checks were used as collateral for an accommodation and not to cover the receipt of an actual account or credit for value.
In the case at bar, the checks were issued to cover the receipt of an actual "account or for value." Substantial evidence, as found by the trial court and Court of Appeals, has established that the checks were issued in payment of the hospital bills of Tys mother.
Finally, we agree with the Court of Appeals in deleting the penalty of imprisonment, absent any proof that petitioner was not a first-time offender nor that she acted in bad faith. Administrative Circular 12-2000,50 adopting the rulings in Vaca v. Court of Appeals51 and Lim v. People,52 authorizes the non-imposition of the penalty of imprisonment in B.P. 22 cases subject to certain conditions. However, the Court resolves to modify the penalty in view of Administrative Circular 13-200153 which clarified Administrative 12-2000. It is stated therein:
WHEREFORE, the instant Petition is DENIED and the assailed Decision of the Court of Appeals, dated 31 July 2001, finding petitioner Vicky C. Ty GUILTY of violating Batas Pambansa Bilang 22 is AFFIRMED with MODIFICATIONS. Petitioner Vicky C. Ty is ORDERED to pay a FINE equivalent to double the amount of each dishonored check subject of the seven cases at bar with subsidiary imprisonment in case of insolvency in accordance with Article 39 of the Revised Penal Code. She is also ordered to pay private complainant, Manila Doctors Hospital, the amount of Two Hundred Ten Thousand Pesos (
Puno, Austria-Martinez, Callejo, Sr., and Chico-Nazario*, JJ., concur.
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