[G.R. NO. 146424 November 18, 2005]
ALBINO JOSEF, Petitioner, v. PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES* and AGUSTIN ALARILLA, Respondents.
D E C I S I O N
This is a Petition for Review on Certiorari 1 of a decision of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. CR no. 23234,2 which affirmed the decision of the Regional Trial Court of Malolos Bulacan convicting Albino Josef of 26 counts of violation of BP 22, also known as the Anti-Bouncing Checks Law.3
By way of a preliminary clarification, this is a Petition for Review of the CA's decision affirming Albino Josef's conviction for 26 counts of violation of BP 22. It is therefore a criminal case and the People of the Philippines should be impleaded as a respondent in line with Section 2, Rule 125 of the 2000 Rules of Criminal Procedure.4 Nonetheless, petitioner, in filing this petition, incorrectly entitled it Albino Josef v. Agustin Alarilla. In accord with Section 6, Rule 1 of the Rules of Court,5 we have allowed petitioner Josef to subsequently implead the People of the Philippines as respondent in this case.
Now, the facts.
From June to August, 1991, petitioner, a Marikina-based manufacturer and seller of shoes, purchased materials from respondent Agustin Alarilla, a seller of leather products from Meycauayan, Bulacan, for which the former issued a total of 26 postdated checks against his account with the Associated Bank and Far East Bank & Trust Company (Marikina Branches). When private respondent presented these checks for encashment, they were dishonored because the accounts against which they were drawn were closed. Private respondent informed petitioner of the dishonor and demanded payment of their value. After some negotiations, petitioner drew and delivered a new set of postdated checks in replacement of the dishonored ones. Private respondent, in turn, returned to petitioner the originals of the dishonored postdated checks but retained photocopies thereof. When private respondent deposited the replacement checks in his account with the Westmont Bank, these were also dishonored by the drawee bank. As a result, the private respondent filed criminal complaints against petitioner for violation of BP 22 with the Office of the Provincial Prosecutor of Bulacan. After preliminary investigation, the Provincial Prosecutor filed 26 Informations against petitioner with the RTC of Bulacan for violation of BP 22, entitled People v. Josef, Criminal Case Nos. 2113-M-93 to 2138-M-93, for the original 26 postdated checks.6
The trial court convicted petitioner on all counts and imposed the penalty of six months for each conviction. The Court of Appeals, in the assailed decision, affirmed the trial court.
Petitioner admits having issued the 26 dishonored checks. However, he claims the following defenses: 1) he has already paid private respondent the amount of the checks in cash; 2) the trial court was incorrect to accept as evidence photocopies of the original checks and 3) he acted in good faith. He likewise adopts the dissenting opinion of CA Justice Martin Villarama, Jr.,7 which states that the penalty of imprisonment was incorrectly imposed on petitioner in the light of Administrative Circular No. 12-2000.8
The petition is without merit.
The elements of violation of BP 22 are:
1) making, drawing and issuing any check to apply on account or for value;
2) knowledge of the maker, drawer or issuer that at the time of issue he does not have sufficient funds in or credit with the drawee bank for the payment of the check in full upon its presentment; andcralawlibrary
3) subsequent dishonor of the check by the drawee bank for insufficiency of funds or credit, or dishonor of the check for the same reason had not the drawer, without any valid cause, ordered the bank to stop payment.9
All three elements are present here.
Petitioner categorically admits the fact of issuance of the checks and their dishonor,10 the first and third elements. He has likewise failed to rebut the statutory presumption11 of knowledge of insufficient funds, the second element, which attaches if the check is presented and dishonored within 90 days from its issuance.12 While petitioner alleges to have paid private respondent the amount of the checks, he failed to specify if he had done so within five banking days from receiving notice of the checks' dishonor and to present any evidence of such payment. In addition, his unsubstantiated claim of cash payment contradicts his earlier defense that he had replaced the checks.
Moving onto the procedural aspects of the case, petitioner claims that, under the Best Evidence Rule, the trial court should not have admitted in evidence the photocopies of the checks until after he had been given reasonable notice to produce the originals. The Court of Appeals, in disposing of this contention, said:13
However, in the light of the factual milieu in the present recourse, (we) find and so declare that the Court a quo did not commit any reversible error in admitting in evidence the photostatic copies of the subject checks in lieu of the originals thereof in the possession of the [Petitioner]. It bears stressing that the raison d etre of the proscription against the admission of secondary evidence in lieu or in substitution of the original thereof is to prevent the commission of fraud on the part of the offeror who is in possession of the best evidence but, in lieu thereof, adduced secondary evidence:
x x x
When he testified in the Court a quo, the [Petitioner] brought out the originals of the checks and even marked the same in evidence as Exhibits "1" to "21", except five (5) of the subject checks, which he claimed as missing and the Prosecution even adopted the original checks as its evidence:
x x x
The [Petitioner] admitted, before the Court a quo, that the originals of the subject checks were in his possession. The [Petitioner] never alleged that the photostatic copies of the checks marked and offered in evidence by the Prosecution were not faithful copies of the originals of the checks. In point of fact, when he testified in the Court a quo, he was shown, by his counsel, the photostatic copies of the subject checks' and admitted that the originals of said checks were in his possession on his claim that he had paid the Private Complainant the amount of
x x x
By his testimony, the [Petitioner] thereby admitted that the photostatic copies of the checks marked and offered in evidence by the Prosecution were the faithful reproductions of the originals of the checks in his possession. Hence, the Prosecution may mark and offer in evidence the photostatic copies of the checks.
x x x
Having admitted, albeit impliedly, that the photostatic copies of the checks admitted in evidence by the Court a quo were the faithful reproduction of the original copies in his possession, the Petitioner was thus estopped from invoking Section 3, Rule 130 of the Revised Rules of Evidence.
We agree with the Court of Appeals. By admitting that the originals were in his possession and even producing them in open court, petitioner cured whatever flaw might have existed in the prosecution's evidence. The fact that these originals were all stamped "account closed" merely confirmed the allegations of the respondent that the checks were dishonored by reason of the account being closed. Because they were entirely consistent with its main theory, the prosecution correctly adopted these originals as its own evidence. In addition, by petitioner's own admission, five of the original checks were lost, thus rendering the photocopies thereof admissible as exceptions to the Best Evidence Rule.14
Regarding petitioner's allegation of good faith, suffice it to say that such a claim is immaterial, the offense in question being malum prohibitum.15 The gravamen of the offense is the issuance of a bad check and therefore, whether or not malice and intent attended such issuance is unimportant.16
In invoking of A.C. No. 12-2000, petitioner adopts the interpretation of Justice Villarama to the effect that the circular mandates judges to impose fines rather than imprisonment on violators of BP 22. In affirming the sentence imposed by the trial court, the majority pointed out that it is only under certain conditions that trial court judges may impose fines rather than imprisonment. The Circular provides, in part:
In its decision in Eduardo Vaca, v. Court of Appeals the Supreme Court (Second Division) per Mr. Justice V. Mendoza, modified the sentence imposed for violation of B.P. Blg. 22 by deleting the penalty of imprisonment and imposing only the penalty of fine in an amount double the amount of the check. In justification thereof, the Court said:
Petitioners are first-time offenders. They are Filipino entrepreneurs who presumably contribute to the national economy. Apparently, they brought this appeal, believing in all good faith, although mistakenly that they had not committed a violation of B.P. Blg. 22. Otherwise they could simply have accepted the judgment of the trial court and applied for probation to evade a prison term. It would best serve the ends of criminal justice if in fixing the penalty within the range of discretion allowed by '1, par. 1, the same philosophy underlying the Indeterminate Sentence Law is observed, namely, that of redeeming valuable human material and preventing unnecessary deprivation of personal liberty and economic usefulness with due regard to the protection of the social order. In this case we believe that a fine in an amount equal to double the amount of the check involved is an appropriate penalty to impose on each of the petitioners.
In the recent case of Rosa Lim v. People of the Philippines, the Supreme Court en banc, applying Vaca also deleted the penalty of imprisonment and sentenced the drawer of the bounced check to the maximum of the fine allowed by B.P. Blg. 22, i.e.,
All courts and judges concerned should henceforth take note of the foregoing policy of the Supreme Court on the matter of the imposition of penalties for violations of B.P. Blg. 22.
Considerable confusion arose as a result of this circular. Like Justice Villarama, many came to believe that the policy enunciated in this circular was to altogether remove imprisonment as an alternative penalty for violation of BP 22. The circular created so much confusion, in fact, that less than three months later, we had to issue yet another circular, Administrative Circular No. 13-2001,17 for the specific purpose of clarifying exactly what the implications of A.C. No. 12-2000 were. In order to put all doubts to rest, the second circular provides:
The clear tenor and intention of Administrative Order No. 12-2000 is not to remove imprisonment as an alternative penalty, but to lay down a rule of preference in the application of the penalties provided for in B.P. Blg. 22.
The pursuit of this purpose clearly does not foreclose the possibility of imprisonment for violators of B.P. Blg. 22. Neither does it defeat the legislative intent behind the law.
Thus, Administrative Circular No. 12-2000 establishes a rule of preference in the application of the penal provisions of B.P. Blg. 22 such that 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 imposition of a fine alone should be considered as the more appropriate penalty. Needless to say, the determination of whether the circumstances warrant the imposition of a fine alone rests solely upon the Judge. Should the Judge decide that imprisonment is the more appropriate penalty, Administrative Circular No. 12-2000 ought not to be deemed a hindrance (emphasis ours).
Clearly, the imposition of either a fine or imprisonment remains entirely within the sound discretion of the judge trying the case, based on his assessment of the offender and the facts. Justice Villarama premised his dissent on the absence of a distinction in A.C. No. 12-2000 between which offenders deserve the relatively lenient penalty of a fine and which deserve imprisonment. As A.C. No. 13-2001 states, the application of the circular is selective and it is entirely up to the trial court judge to make that distinction, given the circumstances obtaining. This brings us to the factual issue of petitioner's worthiness of the lighter penalty. On this, we see no reason to disturb the findings of the trial court.
WHEREFORE, the petition is hereby DENIED. The decision of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. CR No. 23234 is hereby AFFIRMED.
Costs against petitioner.
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