Republic of the Philippines
SUPREME COURT
Manila

EN BANC

 

G.R. Nos. 101127-31 August 7, 1992

PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, plaintiff-appellee,
vs.
CRESENCIA C. REYES, accused-appellant.

The Solicitor General for plaintiff-appellee.

Rosendo C. Ramos for accused-appellant.

 

REGALADO, J.:

In its resolution of May 13, 1992, the First Division of this Court referred en consulta to the Court En Banc the question as to whether herein accused-appellant who was convicted, inter alia, of estafa under paragraph 2(d), Article 315 of the Revised Penal Code and sentenced therefor to serve twenty-two years of reclusion perpetua, with its accessory penalties and liability for indemnification, may be allowed to remain on bail during the pendency of her appeal from said conviction.

A definitive disposition of this issue, which is of first impression, gains added significance in light of our resolution en banc in People vs. Ricardo C. Cortez 1 which, for the guidance of the bench and bar, laid down policies concerning the effectivity of the bail of the accused and which are reproduced hereunder for ready reference:

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1) When an accused is charged with an offense which under the law existing at the time of its commission and at the time of the application for bail is punishable by a penalty lower than reclusion perpetua and is out on bail, and after trial is convicted by the trial court of the offense charged or of a lesser offense than that charged in the complaint or information, he may be allowed to remain free on his original bail pending the resolution of his appeal, unless the proper court directs otherwise pursuant to Rule 114, Sec. 2(a) of the Rules of Court, as amended;

2) When an accused is charged with a capital offense or an offense which under the law at the time of its commission and at the time of the application for bail is punishable by reclusion perpetua and is out on bail, and after trial is convicted by the trial court of a lesser offense than that charged in the complaint or information, the same rule set forth in the preceding paragraph shall be applied;

3) When an accused is charged with a capital offense or an offense which under the law at the time of its commission and at the time of the application for bail as punishable by reclusion perpetua and is out on bail, and after trial is convicted by the trial court of the offense charged. his bond shall be cancelled and the accused shall be placed in confinement pending resolution of his appeal.

As to criminal cases covered under the third rule above cited, which are now pending appeal before this Court where the accused is still on provisional liberty, the following rules are laid down:

1) This Court shall order the bondsman to surrender the accused, within ten (10) days from notice, to the court of origin. The bondsman, thereupon, shall inform this Court of the fact of surrender, after which the cancellation of the bond shall be ordered by this Court.

2) RTC shall order the transmittal of the accused to the National Bureau of Prisons thru the Philippine National Police as the accused shall remain under confinement pending resolution of his appeal.

3) If the accused-appellant is not surrendered within the aforesaid period of ten (10) days, his bond shall be forfeited and an order of arrest shall be issued by this Court. The appeal taken by the accused shall also be dismissed under Section 8, Rule 124 of the Revised Rules of Court as he shall be to have jumped bail.

In the cases at bar, appellant was charged in the Regional Trial Court of Manila, Branch 37, in three cases for violations of Batas Pambansa Blg. 22 2 and two cases of estafa. 3 These cases were jointly tried and a decision thereon was rendered by Judge Angelina S. Gutierrez on March 12, 1991. 4

On the three cases for violations of Batas Pambansa Blg. 22, appellant was convicted and sentenced to a total penalty of two years of imprisonment and to pay a total fine of P96,290.00.

On the two indictments for estafa, in Criminal Case No. 86-51209 she was found guilty and sentenced to twenty-two years of reclusion perpetua with its accessory penalties, to indemnify the complaining witness in the sum of P80,540.00 and to pay the costs; and in Criminal Case No. 86-51210, she was likewise convicted and imposed an indeterminate sentence of six years and one day of prision mayor, as minimum, to fourteen years, eight months and one day of reclusion temporal, as maximum, together with the accessory penalties, as well as to indemnify the offended party in the sum of P15,750.00 and to pay the costs.

Elevated to the Court of Appeals for appellate review, said cases were forwarded by said court to this Court in view of the penalty of reclusion perpetua involved therein. In the meantime, it appears that appellant is under provisional liberty on bail in the aforesaid criminal cases, including Criminal Case No. 86-51209, under a corporate surety bond posted by Oriental Assurance Corporation in the amount of P86,000.00. 5 The Court notes that said bond was provided pursuant to the order of the trial court dated May 16, 1991, 6 hence prior to our resolution of October 15, 1991 quoted in limine.

As earlier stated, the issue presented now is whether, under the considerations in the foregoing discussion, appellant should be permitted to remain on bail. A chronological flashback into the constitutional and statutory changes relevant to this issue, in juxtaposition with the state of the penal laws during the periods material thereto, would accordingly be desirable and instructive.

On October 22, 1975, Presidential Decree No. 818 introduced the following amendment to Article 315 of the Revised Penal Code:

Sec. 1. Any person who shall defraud another by means of false pretenses or fraudulent acts as defined in paragraph 2(d) of Article 315 of the Revised Penal Code, as amended by Republic Act No. 4885, shall be punished by:

1st. The penalty of reclusion temporal if the amount of the fraud is over 12,000 pesos but does not exceed 22,000 pesos, and if such amount exceeds the latter sum, the penalty provided in this paragraph shall be imposed in its maximum period, adding one year for each additional 10,000 pesos; but the total penalty which may be imposed shall in no case exceed thirty years. In such cases, and in connection with the accessory penalties which may be imposed under the Revised Penal Code, the penalty shall be termed reclusion perpetua;

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Preliminarily, it may be asked whether a penalty higher than reclusion temporal but less than thirty (30) years may properly be categorized and considered as embraced within the penalty of reclusion perpetua, as has been provided in said amendatory decree, the common praxis being to attribute to reclusion perpetua and the other perpetual penalties a duration of thirty (30) years.

We hold that there is legal basis, both in law and logic, for Presidential Decree No. 818 to declare that any penalty exceeding twenty (20) years, or the maximum duration of reclusion temporal, is within the range of reclusion perpetua.

It will be observed that Article 27 of the Code 7 provides for the minimum and maximum ranges of all the penalties in the Code (except bond to keep the peace which shall be for such period of time as the court may determine) from arresto menor to reclusion temporal, the latter being specifically from twelve years and one day to twenty years. For reclusion perpetua, however, there is no specification as to its minimum and maximum range, as the aforesaid article merely provides that "(a)ny person sentenced to any of the perpetual penalties shall be pardoned after undergoing the penalty for thirty years, unless such person by reason of his conduct or some other serious cause shall be considered by the Chief Executive as unworthy of pardon."

The other applicable reference to reclusion perpetua is found in Article 70 of the Code which, in laying down the rule on successive service of sentences where the culprit has to serve more than three penalties, provides, that "the maximum duration of the convict's sentence shall not be more than three-fold the length of time corresponding to the most severe of the penalties imposed upon him," and "(i)n applying the provisions of this rule the duration of perpetual penalties (pena perpetual) shall be computed at thirty years."

The imputed duration of thirty (30) years for reclusion perpetua, therefore, is only to serve as the basis for determining the convict's eligibility for pardon or for the application of the three-fold rule in the service of multiple penalties. Since, however, in all the graduated scales of penalties in the Code, as set out in Articles 25, 70 and 71, reclusion perpetua is the penalty immediately next higher to reclusion temporal, it follows by necessary implication that the minimum of reclusion perpetua is twenty (20) years and one (1) day with a maximum duration thereafter to last for the rest of the convict's natural life although, pursuant to Article 70, it appears that the maximum period for the service of penalties shall not exceed forty (40) years. it would be legally absurd and violative of the scales of penalties in the Code to reckon the minimum of reclusion perpetua at thirty (30) years since there would thereby be a resultant lacuna whenever the penalty exceeds the maximum twenty (20) years of reclusion temporal but is less than thirty (30) years.

On the main issue now, it will be recalled that before the ratification of the present Constitution on February 2, 1987, the rule on non-bailability of a criminal offense was singularly in the case of a capital offense where the evidence of guilt is strong. 8 Thus, as late as the 1985 Rules on Criminal Procedure effective on January 1, 1985, bail was a matter of right, except in a capital offense when the evidence of guilt thereof is strong 9 and, following the traditional concept, a capital offense, as the term is used in said Rules, is an offense which, under the law existing at the time of its commission and at the time of the application to be admitted to bail, may be punished with death. 10 Offenses punishable with reclusion perpetua, were accordingly bailable.

With the prohibition in the 1987 Constitution against the imposition of the death penalty, 11 a correlative provision therein categorically declared the unavailability of bail to persons charged with offenses punishable by reclusion perpetua when the evidence of guilt is strong. 12 Correspondingly, the aforecited Section 3 of Rule 114 was amended to provide that no bail shall be granted to those charged with "an offense which, under the law at the time of its commission and at the time of the application for bail, is punishable by reclusion perpetua, when evidence of guilt is strong." 13 There can be no pretense that such unequivocal and explicit provisions in the Constitution and the Rules of Court would admit of any exception, qualification or distinction.

With such developmental antecedents, it may not be said that the framers of the 1987 Constitution, a number of whom were lawyers and who can plausibly be credited even by the censorious with at least a working knowledge of criminal law and procedure, were unaware of the felonies under the Revised Penal Code which were already punishable with the penalty of reclusion perpetua and which, with the amendments introduced by the present Constitution, would become non-bailable offenses as a consequence. Specifically with respect to the offense of estafa involved in the present case, the members of the Constitutional Commission could not have been oblivious of Presidential Decree No, 818, which took effect as early as 1975 and was given extensive media coverage at the instance or with the cooperation of the banking community, providing for the penalty of reclusion perpetua where bouncing checks of the requisite amount are involved.

For that matter, as will hereafter be demonstrated, there are other crimes involving government and private funds or property which theretofore were also already punished with reclusion perpetua. Hence, under the rule of contemporanea expositio and since the felony of estafa was not expressly or impliedly excluded from the aforestated provisions on non-bailability, we see no reason why an accused charged with estafa punishable by reclusion perpetua should now be given the exceptional and favored treatment of being admitted to bail. The same may be said of any accused charged with any offense so punished, whether the penalty of reclusion perpetua is by direct statutory prescription or is imposed as a consequence of the interplay of related provisions of the Code.

It is suggested that since estafa is a crime against property and supposedly not as "heinous" as crimes against persons or chastity, such as murder or rape, it should not be equated with the latter felonies in justifying the denial of bail to the accused. From the preceding disquisition, the obvious riposte is that this is a matter which should properly be addressed to the legislature. It is not for this Court, by judicial legislation, to amend the pertinent provisions of the Revised Penal Code, much less the Constitution. Nor is it for us to intrude into the policy considerations, absent blatant abuse of legislative power or capricious exercise thereof, which impelled the legislative categorization of an offense as being so abominable or execrable as to call for a denial of the right to bail. On this score, we can take judicial notice that multimillion or large-scale estafa cases and inveterate or professional swindlers have inflicted untold damages and misery not only on one or two but on countless victims in this country.

It will further be observed that Presidential Decree No. 818 does not apply to all forms of estafa but only to estafa by means of deceit under paragraph 2(d) of Article 315, that is, estafa through the use of so-called bouncing checks. 14 The preambular clauses of said decree duly express the rationale for the amendment introduced thereby in this wise:

WHEREAS, reports received of late indicate an upsurge of estafa (swindling) cases committed by means of bouncing checks;

WHEREAS, if not checked at once, these criminal acts would erode the people's confidence in the use of negotiable instruments as a medium of commercial transaction and consequently result in the retardation of trade and commerce and the undermining of the banking system of the country;

WHEREAS, it is vitally necessary to arrest and curb the rise in this kind of estafa cases by increasing the existing penalties provided therefor;

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Now, as earlier stated, on analogous considerations in the formulation of punitive policies, the penalty of reclusion perpetua is imposed in one felony under the title on crimes committed by public officers and in three felonies under the title on crimes against property. These provisions have been in the Revised Penal Code long before Presidential Decree No. 818 was effected and may have been the bases for the amendments introduced by the latter.

Thus, in malversation of public funds or property, if the amount involved exceeds P22,000.00, the penalty shall be reclusion temporal in its maximum period to reclusion perpetua. 15

In robbery, when by reason or on the occasion of which any of the physical injuries penalized in subdivision 2 of Article 263 is committed (which includes mere incapacity from the victim's habitual work for more than ninety days), the penalty is reclusion temporal. 16 However, if in said robbery the property taken is mail matter or large cattle, the offender shall suffer the penalty next higher in degree, that is, reclusion perpetua. 17

In the crime of theft, if the value of the thing stolen exceeds P22,000.00, the penalty shall be prision mayor in its maximum period and one year for each additional P10,000.00, but the total penalty shall not exceed twenty years or reclusion temporal. 18 However, if that crime of theft is attended by any of the qualifying circumstances which convert the taking into qualified theft, the penalty next higher by two degrees shall be imposed, 19 that is, at least reclusion perpetua.

The felony of destructive arson, which includes the burning of any building where people usually gather or congregate for a definite purpose is now punished by reclusion temporal in its maximum period to death 20 regardless of the resultant effects or amount of damages. The same increased penalty is imposed on other forms of arson formerly defined in paragraph l(c) and (d) of Article 321, which have now been incorporated by Presidential Decree No. 1744 in Article 320 as destructive arson, regardless of the damages caused or whether or not the purpose is attained.

From the foregoing discussion, it is evident that the legislative criteria for the imposition of reclusion perpetua in said offenses took into account not only the inherent odious or outrageous nature of the crime, such as the taking of a life or an assault against chastity, but also either the moral depravity or criminal perversity shown by the acts of the accused, or the necessity for protection of property in the governmental, financial or economic interests of the country. The objectives of Presidential Decree No. 818 are indubitably within the ambit of the same legislative intendment and the foregoing justifications for the imposition of higher penalties and the consequent denial of bail to the malefactor.

ACCORDINGLY, the Court hereby RESOLVES (1) to ORDER the bondsman, Oriental Assurance Corporation, to surrender accused-appellant Cresencia C. Reyes within ten (10) days from notice to the Regional Trial Court of Manila, Branch 37, and to immediately inform this Court of such fact of surrender; and (2) to REQUIRE said Regional Trial Court, immediately after such surrender, to order the transmittal of the accused-appellant to the Bureau of Corrections through the Philippine National Police and to forthwith report to this Court its compliance therewith.

S0 ORDERED.

Narvasa, C.J., Gutierrez, Jr., Cruz, Feliciano, Padilla, Bidin, Griño-Aquino, Medialdea, Davide, Jr., Romero, Nocon and Bellosillo, JJ., concur.

 

Footnotes

1 G.R. No. 92560, October 15, 1991.

2 Crim. Cases Nos. 86-51206, 86-51207 and 86-51208.

3 Crim. Cases Nos. 86-51209 and 86-51210.

4 Rollo, 22-32.

5 Original Record, 304-315.

6 Ibid., 303.

7 This falls under Section One (Duration of Penalties) of Book One, Title Three, Chapter Three.

8 Art. III, Sec. 1(16), 1935 Constitution; Art. IV, Sec. 18, 1973 Constitution.

9 Sec. 3, Rule 114.

10 Sec. 4, id.

11 Sec. 19(1), Art. III.

12 Sec. 13, id.

13 As amended by Resolution of the Supreme Court dated July 7, 1988.

14 People vs. Villaraza, et al., 81 SCRA 95 (1978).

15 Art. 217, Revised Penal Code.

16 Art. 294(3), id.

17 Art. 302, last par., id.

18 Art. 309(1), id.

19 Art. 310, id., as amended by B.P. Blg. 71. Noteworthy, vis-a-vis the justification for the incremental penalty for estafa by bouncing checks, is that theft is qualified by the mere fact that it is committed by a domestic servant, or with grave abuse of confidence, or if the property stolen is motor vehicle, mail matter or large cattle or consists of coconuts taken from the premises of a plantation, fish taken from a fishpond or fishery or if property is taken on the occasion of a calamity, vehicular accident or civil disturbance.

20 Art. 320, id., as amended by P.D. No. 1744.


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