Republic of the Philippines
G.R. No. 173473 – PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES versus BETH TEMPORADA.
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A man cannot suffer more punishment than the law assigns, but he may suffer less. – William Blackstone1
For when lenity and cruelty play for a kingdom, the gentler gamester is the soonest winner. – William Shakespeare2
The application of the Indeterminate Sentence Law is one of the more complicated and confusing topics in criminal law. It befuddles not a few students of law, legal scholars and members of the bench and of the bar.3 Fortunately, this case presents a great opportunity for the Court to resolve with finality a controversial aspect of the application and interpretation of the Indeterminate Sentence Law. It is an occasion for the Court to perform its duty to formulate guiding and controlling principles, precepts, doctrines or rules.4 In the process, the matter can be clarified, the public may be educated and the Court can exercise its symbolic function of instructing bench and bar on the extent of protection given by statutory and constitutional guarantees.5
The fundamental principle in applying and interpreting criminal laws, including the Indeterminate Sentence Law, is to resolve all doubts in favor of the accused. In dubio pro reo. When in doubt, rule for the accused. This is in consonance with the constitutional guarantee that the accused ought to be presumed innocent until and unless his guilt is established beyond reasonable doubt.6
Intimately intertwined with the in dubio pro reo principle is the rule of lenity. It is the doctrine that "a court, in construing an ambiguous criminal statute that sets out multiple or inconsistent punishments, should resolve the ambiguity in favor of the more lenient punishment."7
Lenity becomes all the more appropriate when this case is viewed through the lens of the basic purpose of the Indeterminate Sentence Law "to uplift and redeem valuable human material, and prevent unnecessary and excessive deprivation of personal liberty and economic usefulness."8 Since the goal of the Indeterminate Sentence Law is to look kindly on the accused, the Court should adopt an application or interpretation that is more favorable to the accused.
It is on the basis of this basic principle of criminal law that I respectfully submit this opinion.
The Bone of Contention
The members of the Court are unanimous that accused-appellant Beth Temporada was correctly found guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the crimes of illegal recruitment and estafa by the Regional Trial Court of Manila, Branch 33 and the Court of Appeals. However, opinions differ sharply on the penalty that should be imposed on accused-appellant for estafa. In particular, there is a debate on how the Indeterminate Sentence Law should be applied in a case like this where there is an incremental penalty when the amount embezzled exceeds
P22,000 (by at least P10,000).
In this connection, the relevant portion of Article 315 of the Revised Penal Code provides:
ART. 315. Swindling (estafa). – Any person who shall defraud another by any means mentioned hereinbelow shall be punished by:
1st. The penalty of prision correccional in its maximum period to prision mayor in its minimum period, 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 twenty years. In such case, and in connection with the accessory penalties which may be imposed under the Revised Penal Code, the penalty shall be termed prision mayor to reclusion temporal, as the case may be.
x x x     x x x     x x x
On the other hand, the relevant portion of the Indeterminate Sentence Law provides:
SECTION 1. Hereafter, in imposing a prison sentence for an offense punished by the Revised Penal Code, or its amendments, the court shall sentence the accused to an indeterminate sentence the maximum term of which shall be that which, in view of the attending circumstances, could be properly imposed under the rules of the said Code, and the minimum which shall be within the range of the penalty next lower to that prescribed by the Code for the offense; x x x
Jurisprudence shows that there are two schools of thought on the incremental penalty in estafa vis-à-vis the Indeterminate Sentence Law. Under the first school of thought, the minimum term is fixed at prision correccional while the maximum term can reach up to reclusion temporal. This is the general interpretation. It was resorted to in People v. Pabalan,9 People v. Benemerito,10 People v. Gabres11 and in a string of cases.12
On the other hand, under the second school of thought, the minimum term is one degree away from the maximum term and therefore varies as the amount of the thing stolen or embezzled rises or falls. It is the line of jurisprudence that follows People v. De la Cruz.13 Among the cases of this genre are People v. Romero,14 People v. Dinglasan15 and Salazar v. People.16
The Court is urged in this case to adopt a consistent position by categorically discarding one school of thought. Hence, our dilemma: which of the two schools of thought should we affirm?
The First School of Thought Is
More Favorable To The Accused
Under the Indeterminate Sentence Law, in imposing a sentence, the court must determine two penalties composed of the "maximum" and "minimum" terms, instead of imposing a single fixed penalty.17 Hence, the indeterminate sentence is composed of a maximum term taken from the penalty imposable under the Revised Penal Code and a minimum term taken from the penalty next lower to that fixed in the said Code.
The maximum term corresponds to "that which, in view of the attending circumstances, could be properly imposed under the rules of the [Revised Penal] Code." Thus, "attending circumstances" (such as mitigating, aggravating and other relevant circumstances) that may modify the imposable penalty applying the rules of the Revised Penal Code is considered in determining the maximum term. Stated otherwise, the maximum term is arrived at after taking into consideration the effects of attendant modifying circumstances.
On the other hand, the minimum term "shall be within the range of the penalty next lower to that prescribed by the [Revised Penal] Code for the offense." It is based on the penalty prescribed by the Revised Penal Code for the offense without considering in the meantime the modifying circumstances.18
The penalty prescribed by Article 315 of the Revised Penal Code for the felony of estafa (except estafa under Article 315(2)(d))19 is prision correccional in its maximum period to prision mayor in its minimum period if the amount of the fraud is over
P12,000 but does not exceed P22,000. If it exceeds P22,000, the penalty provided in this paragraph shall be imposed in its maximum period. Moreover, where the amount embezzled is more than P22,000, an incremental penalty of one year shall be added for every additional P10,000.
Thus, the Revised Penal Code imposes prision correccional in its maximum period to prision mayor in its minimum period (or a period of four years, two months and one day to eight years) if the amount of the fraud is more than
P12,000 but not more than P22,000. If it exceeds P22,000, the penalty is imposed in its maximum period (or a period of six years, 8 months and 21 days to eight years) with an incremental penalty of one year for each additional P10,000 subject to the limitation that the total penalty which may be imposed shall in no case exceed 20 years.
Strictly speaking, the circumstance that the amount misappropriated by the offender is more than
P22,000 is a qualifying circumstance. In People v. Bayot,20 this Court defined a qualifying circumstance as a circumstance the effect of which is "not only to give the crime committed its proper and exclusive name but also to place the author thereof in such a situation as to deserve no other penalty than that especially prescribed for said crime." Applying the definition to estafa where the amount embezzled is more than P22,000, the amount involved ipso jure places the offender in such a situation as to deserve no other penalty than the imposition of the penalty in its maximum period plus incremental penalty, if warranted.21 In other words, if the amount involved is more than P22,000, then the offender shall be sentenced to suffer the maximum period of the prescribed penalty with an incremental penalty of one year per additional P10,000.
However, People v. Gabres considered the circumstance that more than
P22,000 was involved as a generic modifying circumstance which is material only in the determination of the maximum term, not of the minimum term:
Under the Indeterminate Sentence Law, the maximum term of the penalty shall be "that which, in view of the attending circumstances, could be properly imposed" under the Revised Penal Code, and the minimum shall be "within the range of the penalty next lower to that prescribed" for the offense." The penalty next lower should be based on the penalty prescribed by the Code for the offense, without first considering any modifying circumstance attendant to the commission of the crime. The determination of the minimum penalty is left by law to the sound discretion of the court and it can be anywhere within the range of the penalty next lower without any reference to the periods into which into which it might be subdivided. The modifying circumstances are considered only in the imposition of the maximum term of the indeterminate sentence.
The fact that the amounts involved in the instant case exceed
P22,000.00 should not be considered in the initial determination of the indeterminate penalty; instead, the matter should be so taken as analogous to modifying circumstances in the imposition of the maximum term of the full indeterminate sentence. This interpretation of the law accords with the rule that penal laws should be construed in favor of the accused. Since the penalty prescribed by law for the estafa charged against accused-appellant is prision correccional maximum to prision mayor minimum, the penalty next lower would then be prision correccional minimum to medium. Thus, the minimum term of the indeterminate sentence should be anywhere within six (6) months and one (1) day to four (4) years and two months while the maximum term of the indeterminate sentence should at least be six (6) years and one (1) day because the amounts involved exceeded P22,000.00, plus an additional one (1) year for each additional P10,000.00. (emphasis supplied)
If the circumstance that more than
P22,000 was involved is considered as a qualifying circumstance, the penalty prescribed by the Revised Penal Code for it will be the maximum period of prision correccional in its maximum period to prision mayor in its minimum period. This has a duration of six years, 8 months and 21 days to eight years. The penalty next lower (which will correspond to the minimum penalty of the indeterminate sentence) is the medium period of prision correccional in its maximum period to prision mayor in its minimum period, which has a duration of five years, five months and 11 days to six years, eight months and 20 days.22
If the circumstance is considered simply as a modifying circumstance (as in Gabres), it will be disregarded in determining the minimum term of the indeterminate sentence. The starting point will be prision correccional maximum to prision mayor minimum and the penalty next lower will then be prision correccional in its minimum to medium periods, which has a duration of six months and one day to four years and two months.
From the foregoing, it is more favorable to the accused if the circumstance (that more than
P22,000 was involved) is to be considered as a modifying circumstance, not as a qualifying circumstance. Hence, I submit that the Gabres rule is preferable.
On the contrary, the second school of thought is invariably prejudicial to the accused. By fixing the minimum term of the indeterminate sentence to one degree away from the maximum term, the minimum term will always be longer than prision correccional in its minimum to medium periods.
Worse, the circumstance (that more than
P22,000 was embezzled) is not a modifying circumstance but a part of the penalty, if adopted, will mean that the minimum term of the indeterminate sentence will never be lower than the medium period of prision correccional in its maximum period to prision mayor in its minimum period, the penalty next lower to the maximum period of prision correccional in its maximum period to prision mayor in its minimum period.
The Second School Of Thought
And Its Shortcomings
The primary defect of the so-called second school of thought is that it contradicts the in dubio pro reo principle. It also violates the lenity rule. Instead, it advocates a stricter interpretation with harsher effects on the accused. In particular, compared to the first school of thought, it lengthens rather than shortens the penalty that may be imposed on the accused. Seen in its proper context, the second school of thought is contrary to the avowed purpose of the law that it purportedly seeks to promote, the Indeterminate Sentence Law.
The second school of thought limits the concept of "modifying circumstance" to either a mitigating or aggravating circumstance listed under Articles 13 and 14 of the Revised Penal Code. It contends that the respective enumerations under the said provisions are exclusive and all other circumstances not included therein were intentionally omitted by the legislature. It further asserts that, even assuming that the circumstance that more than
P22,000 was embezzled may be deemed as analogous to aggravating circumstances under Article 14, the said circumstance cannot be considered as an aggravating circumstance because it is only in mitigating circumstances that analogous circumstances are allowed and recognized.23 The second school of thought then insists that, since the circumstance that more than P22,000 was involved is not among those listed under Article 14, the said circumstance is not a modifying circumstance for purposes of the Indeterminate Sentence Law.
The second school of thought therefore strictly construes the term "attending circumstances" against the accused. It refuses to recognize anything that is not expressed, takes the language used in its exact meaning and admits no equitable consideration.
To the point of being repetitive, however, where the accused is concerned, penal statutes should be interpreted liberally, not strictly.
The fact that there are two schools of thought on the matter by itself shows that there is uncertainty as to the concept of "attending" or "modifying" circumstances. Pursuant to the in dubio pro reo principle, the doubt must be resolved in favor of the accused and not against him.
Moreover, laws must receive sensible interpretation to promote the ends for which they are enacted.24 The meaning of a word or phrase used in a statute may be qualified by the purpose which induced the legislature to enact the statute. The purpose may indicate whether to give a word or phrase a restricted or expansive meaning.25 In construing a word or phrase, the court should adopt the interpretation that best serves the manifest purpose of the statute or promotes or realizes its object.26 Where the language of the statute is fairly susceptible to two or more constructions, that which will most tend to give effect to the manifest intent of the lawmaker and promote the object for which the statute was enacted should be adopted.27 Taken in conjunction with the lenity rule, a doubtful provision of a law that seeks to alleviate the effects of incarceration ought to be given an interpretation that affords lenient treatment to the accused.
The Indeterminate Sentence Law is intended to favor the accused, particularly to shorten his term of imprisonment.28 The reduction of his period of incarceration reasonably helps "uplift and redeem valuable human material, and prevent unnecessary and excessive deprivation of personal liberty and economic usefulness." The law, being penal in character, must receive an interpretation that benefits the accused.29 This Court already ruled that "in cases where the application of the law on indeterminate sentence would be unfavorable to the accused, resulting in the lengthening of his prison sentence, said law on indeterminate sentence should not be applied."30 In the same vein, if an interpretation of the Indeterminate Sentence Law is unfavorable to the accused and will work to increase the term of his imprisonment, that interpretation should not be adopted. It is also for this reason that the claim that the power of this Court to lighten the penalty of lesser crimes carries with it the responsibility to impose a greater penalty for grave penalties is not only wrong but also dangerous.
Nowhere does the Indeterminate Sentence Law prescribe that the minimum term of the penalty be no farther than one degree away from the maximum term. Thus, while it may be true that the minimum term of the penalty in an indeterminate sentence is generally one degree away from the maximum term, the law does not mandate that its application be rigorously and narrowly limited to that situation.
The Proper Indeterminate
Penalties In These Cases
From the above disquisition, I respectfully submit that the prevailing rule, the so-called first school of thought, be followed. With respect to the indeterminate sentence that may be imposed on the accused, I agree with the position taken by Madame Justice Consuelo Ynares-Santiago.
Accordingly, I vote that the decision of the Court of Appeals be AFFIRMED with the following modifications:
(1) in Criminal Case No. 02-208372, the accused be sentenced to an indeterminate penalty of 4 years and 2 months of prision correccional as minimum, to 9 years, 8 months and 21 days of prision mayor as maximum;
(2) in Criminal Case Nos. 02-208373, 02-208375, and 02-208376, the accused be sentenced to an indeterminate penalty of 4 years and 2 months of prision correccional as minimum, to 10 years, 8 months and 21 days of prision mayor as maximum for each of the aforesaid three estafa cases and
(3) in Criminal Case No. 02-208374, the accused be sentenced to an indeterminate penalty of 4 years and 2 months of prision correccional as minimum, to 12 years, 8 months and 21 days of prision mayor as maximum.
RENATO C. CORONA
1 Commentaries on the Laws of England 92.
2 King Henry The Fifth, Act 3, Scene 6, Line 11.
3 A survey of criminal law jurisprudence will show that among the portions of the ruling of trial courts and the appellate court that are most commonly corrected by this Court is the application of the Indeterminate Sentence Law. In fact, even this Court has grappled with the matter. (See People v. Moises, [160 Phil. 845 (1975)] overruling People v. Colman [103 Phil. 6 (1958)]; People v. Gonzales [73 Phil. 549 (1942)] overturning People v. Co Pao [58 Phil. 545 (1933)] and People v. Gayrama (60 Phil. 796 (1934)] and People v. Mape [77 Phil. 809 (1947)] reversing People v. Haloot [64 Phil. 739 (1937)] which followed the Co Pao ruling.)
4 See Salonga v. Cruz Paño, 219 Phil. 402 (1985).
6 See Section 14 (2), Constitution.
7 Black’s Law Dictionary, Eighth Edition (2004), p. 1359.
8 People v. Ducosin, 59 Phil. 109 (1933).
9 331 Phil. 64 (1996).
10 332 Phil. 710 (1996).
11 335 Phil. 242 (1997).
12 These cases include People v. Hernando, 375 Phil. 1078 (1999), People v. Menil, 394 Phil. 433 (2000), People v. Logan, 414 Phil. 113 (2001), People v. Gallardo, 436 Phil. 698 (2002), Garcia v. People, 457 Phil. 713 (2003) and Vasquez v. People, G.R. No. 159255, 28 January 2008, 542 SCRA 520.
13 383 Phil. 213 (2000).
14 365 Phil. 531 (1999).
15 437 Phil. 621 (2002).
16 439 Phil. 762 (2002).
17 People v. Ducosin, supra.
18 People v. Gonzales, supra note 3.
19 The penalty for estafa under Article 315(2)(d) is provided under PD 818 (Amending Article 315 of the Revised Penal Code by Increasing the Penalties for Estafa Committed by Means of Bouncing Checks).
20 64 Phil. 269 (1937).
21 This is similar to the effect of the circumstance that the offender intended to aid the enemy by giving notice or information that is useful to the enemy in the crime of correspondence with hostile country under Article 120(3) of the Revised Penal Code (which necessitates the imposition of reclusion perpetua to death) or of the circumstance that the offender be a public officer or employee in the crime of espionage under Article 117 of the Revised Penal Code (which requires the imposition of the penalty next higher in degree than that generally imposed for the crime).
22 See Article 61(5) of the Revised Penal Code. If the penalty is any one of the three periods of a divisible penalty, the penalty next lower in degree shall be that period next following the given penalty. Thus, the penalty immediately inferior to prision mayor in its maximum period is prision mayor in its medium period (People v. Co Pao, supra note 3). If the penalty is reclusion temporal in its medium period, the penalty next lower in degree is reclusion temporal in its minimum period (People v. Gayrama, supra note 3). The penalty prescribed by the Revised Penal Code for a felony is a degree. If the penalty prescribed for a felony is one of the three periods of a divisible penalty, that period becomes a degree, and the period immediately below is the penalty next lower in degree (Reyes, Luis B., The Revised Penal Code, Book Two, Fifteenth Edition , p. 700).
23 In particular, Article 13(10) expressly provides that "any other circumstances of a similar nature and analogous to those above mentioned" are treated as mitigating. Article 14, however, does not have a similar provision.
24 Lo Cham v. Ocampo, 77 Phil. 636 (1946).
25 Krivenko v. Register of Deeds, 79 Phil. 461 (1947).
26 Muñoz & Co. v. Hord, 12 Phil. 624 (1909).
27 Ty Sue v. Hord, 12 Phil. 485 (1909).
28 People v. Nang Kay, 88 Phil. 515 (1951).
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