Can you be jailed for debt in the Philippines? We shall explain and try to provide relevant information as regards this particular topic. Indebtedness is something that we do not want. Yet, this situation may be inevitable at times, owing to the complexities and challenges of life. Some can manage, others, cannot. In a plain and pure term, debt is an obligation, and the latter may arise from law, contracts, quasi-contract, quasi-delict, or delict [crime].
“He will not be jailed for non-payment of indebtedness but for the employment of criminal fraud, such as misrepresentation of material information.”
However, if we have debt, we necessarily have an obligation. In common parlance and usual occurrence, most of us, either express or implied or written or verbal, contract debt through an agreement with another, or those whose have the capacity to provide our needs, in terms of money.
In this sense that we interpret our obligation of indebtedness. Again, in unadulterated perspective, no less than our Philippine Constitution states that:
Section 20. No person shall be imprisoned for debt or non-payment of a poll tax.1
This is our fundamental law, and must as always be paramount than any other law or statute here in the Philippines. Thus, generally when we have indebtedness, and we have failed to pay the same, we cannot be imprisoned for non-payment thereof.
Civil and Criminal Fraud
One of the causes in breaching, or non-fulfillment of, an obligation is through fraud. Our Philippine Civil Code provides such. Thus:
Article 1170. Those who in the performance of their obligations are guilty of fraud, negligence, or delay, and those who in any manner contravene the tenor thereof, are liable for damages.2
Article 1171. Responsibility arising from fraud is demandable in all obligations. Any waiver of an action for future fraud is void.3
Nonetheless, when this fraud has been employed, and as a result of which, the obligation has not been fulfilled by the obligor or debtor, the same partakes only the commission of civil fraud. Consequently, the liability of the latter is merely civil in nature, thus, civil fraud.
On the other hand, we have another specie of fraud, which we termed in law as criminal fraud. Nonetheless, it must be stressed that, generally, if there is a breach of an obligation through the commission of fraud, the responsibility is civil in character.
Hence, you may ask, when will criminal fraud transpire. First, we must bear in mind the principle: “nullum crimen nullum poena sine lege”. Otherwise stated, there is no crime if there is no law punishing it.
In view of this, criminal fraud should be specifically created by a statue as penal offense in order to mete the appropriate penalty for its commission.
Our Criminal Laws, particularly the Revised Penal Code of the Philippines, sets out situations for which the said law punishes the employment of criminal fraud. These are found in Book Two (2), Title Ten (10), Crimes Against Property, Chapter Six (6), Swindling and Other Deceits. These circumstances are:
Estafa [Article 315]
(a) By altering the substance, quantity, or quality or anything of value which the offender shall deliver by virtue of an obligation to do so, even though such obligation be based on an immoral or illegal consideration.5
(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.6
(c) By taking undue advantage of the signature of the offended party in blank, and by writing any document above such signature in blank, to the prejudice of the offended party or of any third person.7
By means of any of the following false pretenses or fraudulent acts executed prior to or simultaneously with the commission of the fraud:8
(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.9
(b) By altering the quality, fineness or weight of anything pertaining to his art or business.10
(c) By pretending to have bribed any Government employee, without prejudice to the action for calumny which the offended party may deem proper to bring against the offender. In this case, the offender shall be punished by the maximum period of the penalty.11
(d) By post-dating a check, or issuing a check in payment of an obligation when the offender had no funds in the bank, or his funds deposited therein were not sufficient to cover the amount of the check. The failure of the drawer of the check to deposit the amount necessary to cover his check within three (3) days from receipt of notice from the bank and/or the payee or holder that said check has been dishonored for lack of insufficiency of funds shall be prima facie evidence of deceit constituting false pretense or fraudulent act. (As amended by R.A. 4885, approved June 17, 1967.)12
(e) By obtaining any food, refreshment or accommodation at a hotel, inn, restaurant, boarding house, lodging house, or apartment house and the like without paying therefor, with intent to defraud the proprietor or manager thereof, or by obtaining credit at hotel, inn, restaurant, boarding house, lodging house, or apartment house by the use of any false pretense, or by abandoning or surreptitiously removing any part of his baggage from a hotel, inn, restaurant, boarding house, lodging house or apartment house after obtaining credit, food, refreshment or accommodation therein without paying for his food, refreshment or accommodation.13
Through any of the following fraudulent means:14
(a) By inducing another, by means of deceit, to sign any document.15
(b) By resorting to some fraudulent practice to insure success in a gambling game.16
(c) By removing, concealing or destroying, in whole or in part, any court record, office files, document or any other papers.17
Other Forms of Swindling [Article 316]
Other forms of swindling. – The penalty of arresto mayor in its minimum and medium period and a fine of not less than the value of the damage caused and not more than three times such value, shall be imposed upon:18
- Any person who, pretending to be owner of any real property, shall convey, sell, encumber or mortgage the same.19
- Any person, who, knowing that real property is encumbered, shall dispose of the same, although such encumbrance be not recorded.20
- The owner of any personal property who shall wrongfully take it from its lawful possessor, to the prejudice of the latter or any third person.21
- Any person who, to the prejudice of another, shall execute any fictitious contract.22
- Any person who shall accept any compensation given him under the belief that it was in payment of services rendered or labor performed by him, when in fact he did not actually perform such services or labor.23
- Any person who, while being a surety in a bond given in a criminal or civil action, without express authority from the court or before the cancellation of his bond or before being relieved from the obligation contracted by him, shall sell, mortgage, or, in any other manner, encumber the real property or properties with which he guaranteed the fulfillment of such obligation.24
Swindling A Minor [Article 317]
Swindling a minor. – Any person who taking advantage of the inexperience or emotions or feelings of a minor, to his detriment, shall induce him to assume any obligation or to give any release or execute a transfer of any property right in consideration of some loan of money, credit or other personal property, whether the loan clearly appears in the document or is shown in any other form, shall suffer the penalty of arresto mayor and a fine of a sum ranging from 10 to 50 per cent of the value of the obligation contracted by the minor.25
Other Deceits [Article 318]
Other deceits. – The penalty of arresto mayor and a fine of not less than the amount of the damage caused and not more than twice such amount shall be imposed upon any person who shall defraud or damage another by any other deceit not mentioned in the preceding articles of this chapter.26
Now, can you be jailed for debt in the Philippines?
With the above information, now, we have to qualify. For pure and simple debt that may arise from pre-existing loan, our Philippine Constitution is categorical in saying that no person shall be imprisoned for non-payment of debt.
Nevertheless, if the proximate cause of non-payment of indebtedness arises from the commission of a criminal fraud, then, one may be held criminally responsible.
In the above situations where criminal offenses, through use of criminal fraud, have been committed, you will notice that, except for Other Deceits, criminal fraud is specifically defined, and the facts and circumstances constituting such have been clearly spelled out.
While the criminal fraud in the crime of Other Deceits is not categorically demarcated, still, such fraud may be inferred from the fraudulent acts committed in the preceding situations. Perforce, the law says “any person who shall defraud or damage another by any other deceit not mentioned in the preceding articles of this chapter.”
Thus, if any fraud is committed through constitution of an obligation or during the performance of the same, which is analogous or similar to the other enumerations, the same may be penalized as a criminal offense.
Criminal Fraud other than Estafa, Other Forms of Swindling, and Swindling a Minor
The above felonies are specifically punished for a defined criminal fraud. Therefore, what is left is the crime of Other Deceits. The fraud or deceit in latter felony, as we have stated, albeit penalized, may not have been categorically defined in respect to determining with particularity the criminal fraud circumstance.
We are only guided by the principle of ejusdem generis. In this instance, the criminal fraud must be similar or analogous to “abuse of confidence”, “false pretenses”, or other “fraudulent means”, among others.
Thus, when someone contracts a loan but he purposely and deliberately withholds material information, and misrepresented the same, as regards his personal circumstances which may eventually cause non-payment of the loan and may have led the lender to believe the false information given by the borrower. Had it not been for such material misrepresentation, the lender would not have lent money to the borrower.
This may be an instance of false pretenses, which are not specifically included in the enumeration thereof. One example may be the giving of false addresses.
In this manner, while one contracted a debt by entering into a contract of loan, but when he misrepresented material information from the lender which led to eventual non-payment, this may open the borrower for the prosecution of the offense of “Other Deceits”.
He will not be jailed for non-payment of indebtedness but for the employment of criminal fraud, such as misrepresentation of material information.
Incidentally, one of the situations for which a criminal liability may arise in relation to credit cards is the misrepresentation of material information, such as wring and false address, at the time of application.
While there is a Fundamental proscription against imprisonment for non-payment of indebtedness, it is not a blanket authority to employ fraudulent means in obtaining money from another person. Thus, we should be responsible in entering into certain contractual stipulations or agreement, as there may be punitive consequences, depending upon the circumstances, when an obligation is breached. It may be in the form of penalty interest, or worse, incarceration.
It is suggested though that creditor and debtor disputes should always be amicably settled as a first step in finding solution to such apparent disagreement, with respect to non-fulfillment of obligation.
With our modern legal systems, legal remedies for collection debts are numerous and varied. While criminal sanction may be on a case-to-case basis, still, this does not foreclose any possibility punitive retribution.
- Section 20, Article III, Bill of Rights, 1987 Philippine Constitution
- Article 1170, Civil Code of the Philippines
- Article 1171, Civil Code of the Philippines
- Article 315, Revised Penal Code of the Philippines
- Article 316, Revised Penal Code of the Philippines
- Article 317, Revised Penal Code of the Philippines
- Article 318, Revised Penal Code of the Philippines