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PHILIPPINE SUPREME COURT DECISIONS

FIRST DIVISION

[G.R. No. 130423. November 18, 2002.]

VIRGIE SERONA, Petitioner, v. HON. COURT OF APPEALS and THE PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, Respondents.

D E C I S I O N


YNARES-SANTIAGO, J.:


During the period from July 1992 to September 1992, Leonida Quilatan delivered pieces of jewelry to petitioner Virgie Serona to be sold on commission basis. By oral agreement of the parties, petitioner shall remit payment or return the pieces of jewelry if not sold to Quilatan, both within 30 days from receipt of the items.

Upon petitioner’s failure to pay on September 24, 1992, Quilatan required her to execute an acknowledgment receipt (Exhibit B) indicating their agreement and the total amount due, to wit:chanrob1es virtual 1aw library

Ako, si Virginia Serona, nakatira sa Mother Earth Subd., Las Piñas, ay kumuha ng mga alahas kay Gng. Leonida Quilatan na may kabuohang halaga na P567,750.00 para ipagbili para ako magkakomisyon at ibibigay ang benta kung mabibili o ibabalik sa kanya ang mga nasabing alahas kung hindi mabibili sa loob ng 30 araw.

Las Piñas, September 24, 1992. 1

The receipt was signed by petitioner and a witness, Rufina G. Navarette.

Unknown to Quilatan, petitioner had earlier entrusted the jewelry to one Marichu Labrador for the latter to sell on commission basis. Petitioner was not able to collect payment from Labrador, which caused her to likewise fail to pay her obligation to Quilatan.chanrob1es virtua1 1aw 1ibrary

Subsequently, Quilatan, through counsel, sent a formal letter of demand 2 to petitioner for failure to settle her obligation. Quilatan executed a complaint affidavit 3 against petitioner before the Office of the Assistant Provincial Prosecutor. Thereafter, an information for estafa under Article 315, paragraph 1(b) 4 of the Revised Penal Code was filed against petitioner, which was raffled to Branch 255 of the Regional Trial Court of Las Piñas. The information alleged:chanrob1es virtual 1aw library

That on or about and sometime during the period from July 1992 up to September 1992, in the Municipality of Las Piñas, Metro Manila, Philippines, and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the said accused received in trust from the complainant Leonida E. Quilatan various pieces of jewelry in the total value of P567,750.00 to be sold on commission basis under the express duty and obligation of remitting the proceeds thereof to the said complainant if sold or returning the same to the latter if unsold but the said accused once in possession of said various pieces of jewelry, with unfaithfulness and abuse of confidence and with intent to defraud, did then and there willfully, unlawfully and feloniously misappropriate and convert the same for her own personal use and benefit and despite oral and written demands, she failed and refused to account for said jewelry or the proceeds of sale thereof, to the damage and prejudice of complainant Leonida C. Quilatan in the aforestated total amount of P567,750.00.

CONTRARY TO LAW. 5

Petitioner pleaded not guilty to the charge upon arraignment. 6 Trial on the merits thereafter ensued.chanrob1es virtua1 1aw 1ibrary

Quilatan testified that petitioner was able to remit P100,000.00 and returned P43,000.00 worth of jewelry; 7 that at the start, petitioner was prompt in settling her obligation; however, subsequently the payments were remitted late; 8 that petitioner still owed her in the amount of P424,750.00. 9

On the other hand, petitioner admitted that she received several pieces of jewelry from Quilatan and that she indeed failed to pay for the same. She claimed that she entrusted the pieces of jewelry to Marichu Labrador who failed to pay for the same, thereby causing her to default in paying Quilatan. 10 She presented handwritten receipts (Exhibits 1 & 2) 11 evidencing payments made to Quilatan prior to the filing of the criminal case.

Marichu Labrador confirmed that she received pieces of jewelry from petitioner worth P441,035.00. She identified an acknowledgment receipt (Exhibit 3) 12 signed by her dated July 5, 1992 and testified that she sold the jewelry to a person who absconded without paying her. Labrador also explained that in the past, she too had directly transacted with Quilatan for the sale of jewelry on commission basis; however, due to her outstanding account with the latter, she got jewelry from petitioner instead. 13

On November 17, 1994, the trial court rendered a decision finding petitioner guilty of estafa, the dispositive portion of which reads:chanrob1es virtual 1aw library

WHEREFORE, in the light of the foregoing, the court finds the accused Virgie Serona guilty beyond reasonable doubt, and as the amount misappropriated is P424,750.00 the penalty provided under the first paragraph of Article 315 of the Revised Penal Code has to be imposed which shall be in the maximum period plus one (1) year for every additional P10,000.00.chanrob1es virtua1 1aw 1ibrary

Applying the Indeterminate Sentence Law, the said accused is hereby sentenced to suffer the penalty of imprisonment ranging from FOUR (4) YEARS and ONE (1) DAY of prision correccional as minimum to TEN (10) YEARS and ONE (1) DAY of prision mayor as maximum; to pay the sum of P424,750.00 as cost for the unreturned jewelries; to suffer the accessory penalties provided by law; and to pay the costs.

SO ORDERED. 14

Petitioner appealed to the Court of Appeals, which affirmed the judgment of conviction but modified the penalty as follows:chanrob1es virtual 1aw library

WHEREFORE, the appealed decision finding the accused-appellant guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the crime of estafa is hereby AFFIRMED with the following MODIFICATION:chanrob1es virtual 1aw library

Considering that the amount involved is P424,750.00, the penalty should be imposed in its maximum period adding one (1) year for each additional P10,000.00 albeit the total penalty should not exceed Twenty (20) Years (Art. 315). Hence, Accused-appellant is hereby SENTENCED to suffer the penalty of imprisonment ranging from Four (4) Years and One (1) Day of Prision Correccional as minimum to Twenty (20) Years of Reclusion Temporal.chanrob1es virtua1 1aw 1ibrary

SO ORDERED. 15

Upon denial of her motion for reconsideration, 16 petitioner filed the instant petition under Rule 45, alleging that:chanrob1es virtual 1aw library

I


RESPONDENT COURT OF APPEALS SERIOUSLY ERRED IN CONCLUDING THAT THERE WAS AN ABUSE OF CONFIDENCE ON THE PART OF PETITIONER IN ENTRUSTING THE SUBJECT JEWELRIES (sic) TO HER SUB-AGENT FOR SALE ON COMMISSION TO PROSPECTIVE BUYERS.

II


RESPONDENT COURT OF APPEALS SERIOUSLY ERRED IN CONCLUDING THAT THERE WAS MISAPPROPRIATION OR CONVERSION ON THE PART OF PETITIONER WHEN SHE FAILED TO RETURN THE SUBJECT JEWELRIES (sic) TO PRIVATE COMPLAINANT. 17

Petitioner argues that the prosecution failed to establish the elements of estafa as penalized under Article 315, par. 1(b) of the Revised Penal Code. In particular, she submits that she neither abused the confidence reposed upon her by Quilatan nor converted or misappropriated the subject jewelry; that her giving the pieces of jewelry to a sub-agent for sale on commission basis did not violate her undertaking with Quilatan. Moreover, petitioner delivered the jewelry to Labrador under the same terms upon which it was originally entrusted to her. It was established that petitioner had not derived any personal benefit from the loss of the jewelry. Consequently, it cannot be said that she misappropriated or converted the same.chanrob1es virtua1 1aw 1ibrary

We find merit in the petition.

The elements of estafa through misappropriation or conversion as defined in Article 315, par. 1(b) of the Revised Penal Code are: (1) that the money, good or other personal property is received by the offender in trust, or on commission, or for administration, or under any other obligation involving the duty to make delivery of, or to return, the same; (2) that there be misappropriation or conversion of such money or property by the offender or denial on his part of such receipt; (3) that such misappropriation or conversion or denial is to the prejudice of another; and (4) that there is a demand made by the offended party on the offender. 18 While the first, third and fourth elements are concededly present, we find the second element of misappropriation or conversion to be lacking in the case at bar.

Petitioner did not ipso facto commit the crime of estafa through conversion or misappropriation by delivering the jewelry to a sub-agent for sale on commission basis. We are unable to agree with the lower courts’ conclusion that this fact alone is sufficient ground for holding that petitioner disposed of the jewelry "as if it were hers, thereby committing conversion and a clear breach of trust." 19

It must be pointed out that the law on agency in our jurisdiction allows the appointment by an agent of a substitute or sub-agent in the absence of an express agreement to the contrary between the agent and the principal. 20 In the case at bar, the appointment of Labrador as petitioner’s sub-agent was not expressly prohibited by Quilatan, as the acknowledgment receipt, Exhibit B, does not contain any such limitation. Neither does it appear that petitioner was verbally forbidden by Quilatan from passing on the jewelry to another person before the acknowledgment receipt was executed or at any other time. Thus, it cannot be said that petitioner’s act of entrusting the jewelry to Labrador is characterized by abuse of confidence because such an act was not proscribed and is, in fact, legally sanctioned.chanrob1es virtua1 1aw 1ibrary

The essence of estafa under Article 315, par. 1(b) is the appropriation or conversion of money or property received to the prejudice of the owner. The words "convert" and "misappropriated" connote an act of using or disposing of another’s property as if it were one’s own, or of devoting it to a purpose or use different from that agreed upon. To misappropriate for one’s own use includes not only conversion to one’s personal advantage, but also every attempt to dispose of the property of another without right. 21

In the case at bar, it was established that the inability of petitioner as agent to comply with her duty to return either the pieces of jewelry or the proceeds of its sale to her principal Quilatan was due, in turn, to the failure of Labrador to abide by her agreement with petitioner. Notably, Labrador testified that she obligated herself to sell the jewelry in behalf of petitioner also on commission basis or to return the same if not sold. In other words, the pieces of jewelry were given by petitioner to Labrador to achieve the very same end for which they were delivered to her in the first place. Consequently, there is no conversion since the pieces of jewelry were not devoted to a purpose or use different from that agreed upon.

Similarly, it cannot be said that petitioner misappropriated the jewelry or delivered them to Labrador "without right." Aside from the fact that no condition or limitation was imposed on the mode or manner by which petitioner was to effect the sale, it is also consistent with usual practice for the seller to necessarily part with the valuables in order to find a buyer and allow inspection of the items for sale.

In People v. Nepomuceno, 22 the accused-appellant was acquitted of estafa on facts similar to the instant case. Accused-appellant therein undertook to sell two diamond rings in behalf of the complainant on commission basis, with the obligation to return the same in a few days if not sold. However, by reason of the fact that the rings were delivered also for sale on commission to sub-agents who failed to account for the rings or the proceeds of its sale, Accused-appellant likewise failed to make good his obligation to the complainant thereby giving rise to the charge of estafa. In absolving the accused-appellant of the crime charged, we held:chanrob1es virtual 1aw library

Where, as in the present case, the agents to whom personal property was entrusted for sale, conclusively proves the inability to return the same is solely due to malfeasance of a sub-agent to whom the first agent had actually entrusted the property in good faith, and for the same purpose for which it was received; there being no prohibition to do so and the chattel being delivered to the sub-agent before the owner demands its return or before such return becomes due, we hold that the first agent can not be held guilty of estafa by either misappropriation or conversion. The abuse of confidence that is characteristic of this offense is missing under the circumstances. 23

Accordingly, petitioner herein must be acquitted. The lower courts’ reliance on People v. Flores 24 and U.S. v. Panes 25 to justify petitioner’s conviction is misplaced, considering that the factual background of the cited cases differ from those which obtain in the case at bar. In Flores, the accused received a ring to sell under the condition that she would return it the following day if not sold and without authority to retain the ring or to give it to a sub-agent. The accused in Panes, meanwhile, was obliged to return the jewelry he received upon demand, but passed on the same to a sub-agent even after demand for its return had already been made. In the foregoing cases, it was held that there was conversion or misappropriation.

Furthermore, in Lim v. Court of Appeals, 26 the Court, citing Nepomuceno and the case of People v. Trinidad, 27 held that:chanrob1es virtual 1aw library

In cases of estafa the profit or gain must be obtained by the accused personally, through his own acts, and his mere negligence in permitting another to take advantage or benefit from the entrusted chattel cannot constitute estafa under Article 315, paragraph 1-b, of the Revised Penal Code; unless of course the evidence should disclose that the agent acted in conspiracy or connivance with the one who carried out the actual misappropriation, then the accused would be answerable for the acts of his co-conspirators. If there is no such evidence, direct or circumstantial, and if the proof is clear that the accused herself was the innocent victim of her sub-agent’s faithlessness, her acquittal is in order. 28 (Emphasis supplied)chanrob1es virtua1 1aw 1ibrary

Labrador admitted that she received the jewelry from petitioner and sold the same to a third person. She further acknowledged that she owed petitioner P441,035.00, thereby negating any criminal intent on the part of petitioner. There is no showing that petitioner derived personal benefit from or conspired with Labrador to deprive Quilatan of the jewelry or its value. Consequently, there is no estafa within contemplation of the law.

Notwithstanding the above, however, petitioner is not entirely free from any liability towards Quilatan. The rule is that an accused acquitted of estafa may nevertheless be held civilly liable where the facts established by the evidence so warrant. Then too, an agent who is not prohibited from appointing a sub-agent but does so without express authority is responsible for the acts of the sub-agent. 29 Considering that the civil action for the recovery of civil liability arising from the offense is deemed instituted with the criminal action, 30 petitioner is liable to pay complainant Quilatan the value of the unpaid pieces of jewelry.chanrob1es virtua1 1aw library

WHEREFORE, the petition is GRANTED. The decision of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. CR No. 17222 dated April 30, 1997 and its resolution dated August 28, 1997 are REVERSED and SET ASIDE. Petitioner Virgie Serona is ACQUITTED of the crime charged, but is held civilly liable in the amount of P424,750.00 as actual damages, plus legal interest, without subsidiary imprisonment in case of insolvency.

SO ORDERED.

Davide, Jr., C.J., Vitug, Carpio and Azcuna, JJ., concur.

Endnotes:



1. Rollo, p. 42.

2. RTC Records, p. 8.

3. Ibid., at 6.

4. ART. 315. Swindling (estafa). — Any person who shall defraud another by any of the means mentioned hereinbelow shall be punished by:chanrob1es virtual 1aw library

x       x       x


1. With unfaithfulness or abuse of confidence, namely:chanrob1es virtual 1aw library

x       x       x


(b) By misappropriating or converting to the prejudice of another, money, goods or any other personal property received by the offender in trust or on commission, or for administration, or under any other obligation involving the duty to make delivery of, or to return the same, even though such obligation be totally or partially guaranteed by a bond; or by denying having received such money, goods or other property;

x       x       x..

5. Op. cit., note 1 at 46.

6. Op. cit., note 2 at 25.

7. TSN, July 26, 1993, pp. 15–16.

8. TSN, September 13, 1993, p. 8.

9. Op. cit., note 7 at 17.

10. TSN, November 8, 1993, p. 19.

11. Op. cit., note 2 at 49–50.

12. Ibid., at 51.

13. TSN, January 27, 1994, pp. 5–9 & 16–18.

14. Op. cit., note 1 at 51–52.

15. Ibid., at 40.

16. Id., at 41.

17. Op. cit., note 1 at 13–14.

18. Barrameda v. Court of Appeals, 313 SCRA 477, 484 (1999), citing Fontanilla v. People, 258 SCRA 460 (1996) and Manahan, Jr. v. Court of Appeals, 255 SCRA 202 (1996).

19. Op. cit., note 1 at 51.

20. Civil Code of the Philippines, Article 1892. The agent may appoint a substitute if the principal has not prohibited him from doing so; but he shall be responsible for the acts of the substitute:chanrob1es virtual 1aw library

(1) When he was not given the power to appoint one;

x       x       x.

21. Amorsolo v. People, 154 SCRA 556, 563 (1987), citing U.S. v. Ramirez, 9 Phil. 67 and U.S. v. Panes, 37 Phil. 116 (1917).

22. CA 46 O.G. 6128 (1949).

23. Ibid., at 6135.

24. 47 O.G. 6210 (1949).

25. 37 Phil. 116 (1917).

26. 271 SCRA 12 (1997).

27. CA 53 O.G. 731 (1956).

28. Op. cit., note 26 at 20.

29. Op. cit., note 20.

30. Revised Rules of Criminal Procedure, Rule 111, Section 1(a).

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