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G.R. No. 188217, July 03, 2013 - FERNANDO M. ESPINO, Petitioner, v. PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, Respondent.

G.R. No. 188217, July 03, 2013 - FERNANDO M. ESPINO, Petitioner, v. PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, Respondent.

PHILIPPINE SUPREME COURT DECISIONS

FIRST DIVISION

G.R. No. 188217, July 03, 2013

FERNANDO M. ESPINO, Petitioner, v. PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, Respondent.

D E C I S I O N

SERENO, C.J.:

 

This is a Rule 45 Petition for Review assailing the Court of Appeals (CA) Decision1 dated 24 February 2009 in CA-G.R. CR. No. 31106, which affirmed the Regional Trial Court (RTC) Decision2 in Criminal Case Nos. 02-01226 to 31 convicting the accused of estafa under Article 315, paragraph 2(a); and the CA Resolution3 dated 25 May 2009 denying the Motion for Reconsideration of the accused in the same case.

The RTC decided on the basis of the following facts:cralavvonlinelawlibrary

The accused was a senior sales executive in charge of liaising with import coordinators of the company Kuehne and Nagel, Inc. (KN Inc.).4 His duties included the delivery of its commissions to the import coordinators.5

On 14 October 2002, the Fiscal’s Office of Paranaque charged the accused with six (6) counts of estafa under Article 315, paragraph 1(b) for allegedly rediscounting checks that were meant to be paid to the company’s import coordinators.6

During trial, the prosecution presented witnesses who testified to the fact that the endorsements of the payee on six checks were forged,7 and that the checks were rediscounted by the accused’s aunt-in-law.8 She later testified to her participation in the rediscounting and encashment of the checks.9

The accused testified for himself, claiming that what precipitated the charges was his employer’s discontent after he had allegedly lost an account for the company.10 He was eventually forced to resign and asked to settle some special arrangements with complainant.11 Alongside being made to submit the resignation, he was also asked to sign a sheet of paper that only had numbers written on it.12 He complied with these demands under duress, as pressure was exerted upon him by complainants.13 Later on, he filed a case for illegal dismissal,14 in which he denied having forged the signature of Mr. Banaag at the dorsal portion of the checks.15

In rebuttal, the prosecution presented the testimony of the aunt-in-law of the accused, to prove that the accused had called her to ask if she could rediscount some checks, and that she agreed to do so upon his assurance that he knew the owner of those checks.16

After trial, the RTC convicted the accused of estafa under Article 315, paragraph 2(a).17 In response, he filed a Motion for Reconsideration,18 arguing that the trial court committed a grave error in convicting him of estafa under paragraph 2(a), which was different from paragraph 1(b) of Article 315 under which he had been charged. He also alleged that there was no evidence to support his conviction.19 Thus, he contended that his right to due process of law was thereby violated.20

In turn, the prosecution argued that jurisprudence had established that the nature and character of the crime charged are determined by the facts alleged in the information, and not by a reference to any particular section of the law.21 Subsequently, the RTC denied the Motion.22

The accused then elevated the case to the CA23 on the same grounds that he cited in his Motion, but it denied his appeal,24 stating that the alleged facts sufficiently comprise the elements of estafa as enumerated in Article 315, paragraph 2(a).25 His subsequent Motion for Reconsideration was likewise dismissed.

The accused thus filed this Petition for Review under Rule 45.

In the present Petition, the accused raises his right to due process.26 Specifically, he claims that he was denied due process when he was convicted of estafa under Article 315, paragraph 2(a) of the Revised Penal Code (RPC) despite being charged with estafa under Article 315, paragraph 1(b).27 He argues that the elements constituting both modes of estafa are different, and that this difference should be reflected in the Information.28 According to him, a charge under paragraph 1(b) would not merit a conviction under paragraph 2(a).29 Thus, he emphasizes the alleged failure to inform him of the nature and cause of the accusation against him.30

The issue that must be determined is whether a conviction for estafa under a different paragraph from the one charged is legally permissible.

Article 3, Section 14, paragraph 2 of the 1987 Constitution, requires the accused to be “informed of the nature and cause of the accusation against him” in order to adequately and responsively prepare his defense. The prosecutor is not required, however, to be absolutely accurate in designating the offense by its formal name in the law. As explained by the Court in People v. Manalili:cralavvonlinelawlibrary

It is hornbook doctrine, however, that “what determines the real nature and cause of the accusation against an accused is the actual recital of facts stated in the information or complaint and not the caption or preamble of the information or complaint nor the specification of the provision of law alleged to have been violated, they being conclusions of law.” x x x. (Emphasis supplied) 31

This doctrine negates the due process argument of the accused, because he was sufficiently apprised of the facts that pertained to the charge and conviction for estafa.

First, while the fiscal mentioned Article 315 and specified paragraph 1(b), the controlling words of the Information are found in its body. Accordingly, the Court explained the doctrine in Flores v. Layosa as follows:cralavvonlinelawlibrary

The Revised Rules of Criminal Procedure provides that an information shall be deemed sufficient if it states, among others, the designation of the offense given by the statute and the acts of omissions complained of as constituting the offense. However, the Court has clarified in several cases that the designation of the offense, by making reference to the section or subsection of the statute punishing, it [sic] is not controlling; what actually determines the nature and character of the crime charged are the facts alleged in the information. The Court’s ruling in U.S. v. Lim San is instructive:cralavvonlinelawlibrary

x x x Notwithstanding the apparent contradiction between caption and body, we believe that we ought to say and hold that the characterization of the crime by the fiscal in the caption of the information is immaterial and purposeless, and that the facts stated in the body of the pleading must determine the crime of which the defendant stands charged and for which he must be tried.  The establishment of this doctrine is permitted by the Code of Criminal Procedure, and is thoroughly in accord with common sense and with the requirements of plain justice x x x. (Emphases supplied)32

Clearly, the fiscal’s statement in the Informations specifying the charges as estafa under Article 315, paragraph 1(b) of the RPC,33 did not bind the trial court insofar as the characterization of the nature of the accusation was concerned. The statement never limited the RTC’s discretion to read the Information in the context of the facts alleged. The Court further explains the rationale behind this discretion in this manner:cralavvonlinelawlibrary

From a legal point of view, and in a very real sense, it is of no concern to the accused what is the technical name of the crime of which he stands charged.  It in no way aids him in a defense on the merits. Whatever its purpose may be, its result is to enable the accused to vex the court and embarrass the administration of justice by setting up the technical defense that the crime set forth in the body of the information and proved in the trial is not the crime characterized by the fiscal in the caption of the information.  That to which his attention should be directed, and in which he, above all things else, should be most interested, are the facts alleged.  The real question is not did he commit a crime given in the law some technical and specific name, but did he perform the acts alleged in the body of the information in the manner therein set forth.  If he did, it is of no consequence to him, either as a matter of procedure or of substantive right, how the law denominates the crime which those acts constitute.  The designation of the crime by name in the caption of the information from the facts alleged in the body of that pleading is a conclusion of law made by the fiscal.  In the designation of the crime the accused never has a real interest until the trial has ended.  For his full and complete defense he need not know the name of the crime at all.  It is of no consequence whatever for the protection of his substantial rights... If he performed the acts alleged, in the manner, stated, the law determines what the name of the crime is and fixes the penalty therefore. It is the province of the court alone to say what the crime is or what it is named x x x. (Emphases supplied)34

Any doubt regarding the matter should end with the Court’s conclusion:cralavvonlinelawlibrary

Thus, notwithstanding the discrepancy between the mode of commission of the estafa as alleged in the Information (which states that petitioners committed estafa under Article 315), or as claimed by the People in their Comment (that petitioners committed estafa under Article 318) and the absence of the words “fraud” or “deceit” in the Information, the Court agrees with the Sandiganbayan and the RTC that the factual allegations therein sufficiently inform petitioners of the acts constituting their purported offense and satisfactorily allege the elements of estafa in general committed through the offense of falsification of public document.   As the Sandiganbayan correctly held:cralavvonlinelawlibrary

Every element of which the offense is composed must be alleged in the complaint or information by making reference to the definition and the essentials of the specific crimes. This is so in order to fully apprise the accused of the charge against him and for him to suitably prepare his defense since he is presumed to have no independent knowledge of the facts that constitute the offense.  It is not necessary, however, that the imputations be in the language of the statute. What is important is that the crime is described in intelligible and reasonable certainty. (Emphasis supplied)35

Moreover, the Court declared that in an information for estafa, the use of certain technical and legal words such as “fraud” or “deceit,” is not necessary to make a proper allegation thereof.36

Thus, the only important question left to be answered is whether the facts in the Information do indeed constitute the crime of which the accused was convicted. In other words, was the RTC correct in convicting him of estafa under Article 315, paragraph 2(a) instead of paragraph 1(b)? The answer to this question, however, requires further reflection.

The crime charged was estafa under Article 315, paragraph 1(b) of the Revised Penal Code. Its elements are as follows:  (1) that money, goods, or other personal properties are 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 is a misappropriation or conversion of such money or property by the offender or a denial of the receipt thereof; (3) that the 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.37

However, the crime the accused was convicted of was estafa under Article 315, paragraph 2(a). The elements of this crime are as follows: (1) that there is a false pretense, fraudulent act or fraudulent means; (2) that the false pretense, fraudulent act or fraudulent means is made or executed prior to or simultaneously with the commission of the fraud; (3) that the offended party relies on the false pretense, fraudulent act, or fraudulent means, that is, he is induced to part with his money or property because of the false pretense, fraudulent act, or fraudulent means and (4) that as a result thereof, the offended party suffered damage.38

The six Informations are all similar in content except in the amounts and the check numbers. One of them reads as follows:cralavvonlinelawlibrary

That on or about the 17th day of July, 2000, in the City of Paranaque, Philippines and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the above-named accused, being then the Senior Sales Executive of the complainant Kuehne and Nagel Inc. herein represented by Honesto Raquipiso, tasked with liasoning with the import coordinators of the complainant’s various clients including the delivery of their commissions, said accused received in trust from the complainant Metrobank check no. 1640443816 in the amount of P12,675.00 payable to Mr. Florante Banaag, import coordinator of Europlay, with the obligation to deliver the same but said accused failed to deliver said check in the amount of P12,675.00 and instead, once in possession of the same, forged the signature of Mr. Banaag and had the check rediscounted and far from complying with his obligation, despite demands to account and/or remit the same, with unfaithfulness and/or abuse of confidence, did then and there wilfully, unlawfully and feloniously misappropriate, misapply and convert the proceeds thereof to his own personal use and benefit, to the damage and prejudice of the said complainant, in the amount of P12,675.00.39

Are the elements of estafa under paragraph 2(a) present in the above-quoted Information? Arguably so, because the accused represented to the injured party that he would be delivering the commission to Mr. Banaag; and because of this representation, KN Inc. turned over checks payable to    Mr. Banaag to the accused. In turn, the accused rediscounted the checks for money, to the detriment of both Mr. Banaag and KN Inc. However, this set of facts seems to miss the precision required of a criminal conviction. Estafa under paragraph 2(a) is swindling by means of false pretense, and the words of the law bear this out:cralavvonlinelawlibrary

Article 315.

x x x x

2.  By means of any of the following false pretenses or fraudulent acts executed prior to or simultaneously with the commission of the fraud:cralavvonlinelawlibrary

(a) By using fictitious name, or falsely pretending to possess power, influence, qualifications, property, credit, agency, business or imaginary transactions, or by means of other similar deceits. x x x.

In this case, there was no use of a fictitious name, or a false pretense of power, influence, qualifications, property, credit, agency, or business. At the most, the situation could be likened to an imaginary transaction, although the accused was already trusted with the authority to deliver commissions to Mr. Banaag. The pretense was in representing to the injured party that there was a deliverable commission to Mr. Banaag, when in fact there was none.

Instead of unduly stretching this point, the Court deems it wiser to give the offense its true, formal name – that of estafa through abuse of confidence under paragraph 1(b).

Paragraph 1(b) provides liability for estafa committed 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 that obligation be totally or partially guaranteed by a bond; or by denying having received such money, goods, or other property. This at least, is very clearly shown by the factual allegations of the Informations.

First, personal property in the form of the checks was received by the offender in trust or on commission, with the duty to deliver it to Mr. Banaag. Even though the accused misrepresented the existence of a deliverable commission, it is a fact that he was obliged by KN Inc., the injured party, to deliver the check and account for it. Second, the accused rediscounted the checks to his aunt-in-law. Third, this rediscounting resulted in the wrongful encashment of the checks by someone who was not the payee and therefore not lawfully authorized to do so. Finally, this wrongful encashment prejudiced KN Inc., which lost the proceeds of the check. When accounting was demanded from the accused, he could not conjure any justifiable excuse.

His series of acts precisely constitutes estafa under Article 315, paragraph 1(b).

Nevertheless, this Court need not make such a detailed and narrow analysis. In Ilagan v. Court of Appeals, it stated that estafa can be committed by means of both modes of commission in the following way:cralavvonlinelawlibrary

x x x[E]stafa can be committed with the attendance of both modes of commission, that is, abuse of confidence and deceit employed against the same victim and causing damage to him. Thus, where an agent deliberately misrepresented to the landowner the real position of the prospective buyer of the land in order to induce said owner to agree to a lower price and, thereafter, the agent sold the land for the higher amount which was actually agreed upon by him and the buyer, and he then clandestinely misappropriated the excess, the crime of estafa was committed under both modes and he could be charged under either. (Emphases supplied)40

The above discussion leads to the conclusion that the Information in this case may be interpreted as charging the accused with both estafa under paragraph 1(b) and estafa under paragraph 2(a). It is a basic and fundamental principle of criminal law that one act can give rise to two offenses,41 all the more when a single offense has multiple modes of commission. Hence, the present Petition cannot withstand the tests for review as provided by jurisprudential precedent. While the designation of the circumstances attending the conviction for estafa could have been more precise, there is no reason for this Court to review the findings when both the appellate and the trial courts agree on the facts. We therefore adopt the factual findings of the lower courts in totality, bearing in mind the credence lent to their appreciation of the evidence.

WHEREFORE, premises considered, the instant Petition is hereby DENIED. The assailed Decision dated 24 February 2009 and Resolution dated  25 May 2009 of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. CR. No. 31106 are AFFIRMED.

SO ORDERED.

Leonardo-De Castro, Bersamin, Villarama, Jr., and Reyes, JJ., concur.


Endnotes:


1Rollo, pp. 37-60; penned by Associate Justice Portia Alino-Hormachuelos, and Associate Justices Jose Catral Mendoza (now a member of this Court) and Ramon M. Bato, Jr. concurring.cralawlibrary

2 Id. at 64-81; penned by Judge Leoncia Real-Dimagiba, Regional Trial Court, Branch 194, Parañaque City.cralawlibrary

3 Id. at 62-63.cralawlibrary

4 Id. at 64.cralawlibrary

5 Id.cralawlibrary

6 Records, pp. 1, 39, 41, 43, 45, 47.cralawlibrary

7Rollo, pp. 68-74.cralawlibrary

8 Id. at 78.cralawlibrary

9 Records, pp. 1373-1386.cralawlibrary

10Rollo, p. 74.cralawlibrary

11 Id. at 75.cralawlibrary

12 Id. at 76.cralawlibrary

13 Id.cralawlibrary

14 Id. at 77.cralawlibrary

15 Records, pp. 1237-1238.cralawlibrary

16 Id. at 1373-1386.cralawlibrary

17 Rollo, p. 80.cralawlibrary

18 Records, pp. 854-865.cralawlibrary

19Rollo, p. 82.cralawlibrary

20 Id. at 82-83.cralawlibrary

21 Records, p. 890.cralawlibrary

22Rollo, pp. 82-84; Annex “D.”

23 Id. at 85-86; Annex “E.”

24 Id. at 36; Annex “A.”

25 Id. at 51.cralawlibrary

26 Id. at 13.cralawlibrary

27 Id. at 13-18.cralawlibrary

28 Id. at 17-18.cralawlibrary

29 Id. at 18.cralawlibrary

30 Id. at 17.cralawlibrary

31 355 Phil. 652, 688 (1998).cralawlibrary

32 479 Phil. 1020, 1033-1034 (2004).cralawlibrary

33 Supra note 6.cralawlibrary

34Flores v. Layosa, supra note 32 at 1034.cralawlibrary

35 Id. at 1034-1035.cralawlibrary

36 Id. at 1037.cralawlibrary

37 Libuit v. People,  G.R. No. 154363, 13 September 2005, 469 SCRA 610, 616.cralawlibrary

38R.R. Paredes v. Calilung, G.R. No. 156055, 5 March 2007, 517 SCRA 369, 393.cralawlibrary

39 Records, p. 1.cralawlibrary

40 G.R. No. 110617, 29 December 1994, 239 SCRA 575, 587.cralawlibrary

41People v. Nelmida, G.R. No. 184500, 11 September 2012.
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