Criminal Law

People of the Philippines vs Beth Temporada

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G.R. No. 173473 – 574 SCRA 258 – Criminal Law – Book 1 – Graduation of Penalties – Penalty for Estafa – Application of the Indeterminate Sentence Law

Beth Temporada was sued by Rogelio Legaspi (defrauded of Php57,600.00), Dennis Dimaano (defrauded of Php66,520.00), Soledad Atte (defrauded of Php66,520.00), Luz Minkay (defrauded of Php69,520.00), and Evelyn Estacio (defrauded of Php88,520.00) [for purposes of this digest, we refer to the respective criminal cases as A, B, C, D, and E] for estafa (5 counts). The trial court convicted Temporada and imposed the following penalties:

Crim. Case A

Indeterminate penalty of four (4) years and two (2) months of prision correccional as minimum, to nine (9) years and one (1) day of prision mayor, as maximum.

Crim. Case B, C, and D

Indeterminate penalty of four (4) years and two (2) months of prision correccional as minimum to ten (10) years and one day of prision mayor as maximum.

Crim. Case E

Indeterminate penalty of four (4) years and two (2) months of prision correccional as minimum, to eleven (11) years and one (1) day of prision mayor as maximum.

ISSUE: Whether or not the application of the Indeterminate Sentence Law is correct.

HELD: No. The penalty for estafa is prisión correccional maximum to prisión mayor minimum. If the amount defrauded exceeds Php22k, the penalty to be imposed shall be in its maximum period PLUS one year for every Php10,000.00 in excess of Php22,000.00 (provided that the total penalty shall not exceed 20 years). Otherwise, the penalty to be imposed shall be the medium period (absent any other circumstances).

If looked at closely, the penalty for estafa is composed of two penalties, to wit, prisión correccional maximum AND prisión mayor minimum. It was erroneous for the RTC to presume that the maximum penalty for estafa (those in which the amount defrauded exceeds Php22k) is prisión mayor minimum which if taken on its face is 6 years 1 day to 8 years. The period prescribed must first be divided into three periods, thus (Author’s note: NOT DISCUSSED IN THE CASE but discussed in the cited cases in the case):

Prisión correccional maximum to prisión mayor minimum divided in three periods is:

MINIMUM: 4 years 2 months 1 day to 5 years 5 months 10 days
MEDIUM: 5 years 5 months 11 days to 6 years 8 months 20 days
MAXIMUM: 6 years 8 months 21 days to 8 years

Thus, the maximum penalty referred to as the maximum penalty in estafa in cases where the amount defrauded exceeds Php22k is 6 years 8 months 21 days to 8 years. The court may choose from within this range. After choosing from within that range, then it may add an additional year for every Php10,000.00 in excess of Php22k. In this case, the SC chose to add the additional years to 6 years 8 months 21 days.

In applying the Indeterminate Sentence Law, the penalty lower in degree of prisión correccional maximum to prisión mayor minimum is prision correccional minimum to prision correccional medium or 6 months 1 day – 1 year 8 months 20 days TO 1 year 8 months 21 days – 2 years 11 months 10 days. The trial court can choose from within this range. The RTC is correct in fixing the minimum of four (4) years and two (2) months.

Applying the above rules, this is how Temporada’s penalty should look like:

Crim. Case A

Indeterminate penalty of four (4) years and two (2) months of prision correccional as minimum, to nine (9) years eight (8) months and twenty-one (21) days of prision mayor, as maximum.

Crim. Case B, C, and D

Indeterminate penalty of four (4) years and two (2) months of prision correccional as minimum to ten (10) years eight (8) months and twenty-one (21) days of prision mayor as maximum.

Crim. Case E

Indeterminate penalty of four (4) years and two (2) months of prision correccional as minimum, to twelve (12) years (8) months and twenty-one (21) days of reclusion temporal as maximum.

SIDE ISSUE: Application of the Indeterminate Sentence Law in estafa cases where the amount involved is so massive that the additional years call for the maximum of reclusion temporal. What will be the basis of the next lower penalty?

The SC also discussed the Separate and Dissenting Opinion of Justice Azcuna which is reproduced below since it is a brief opinion:

I join the Chief Justice in his dissent.

The penalty for estafa is a unique one, in a class by itself. The penalty prescribed by law depends on the amount involved. If it does not exceed P22,000, it is the penalty stated in par. 2(a) of Art. 315 of the Revised Penal Code, i.e., prision correccional maximum to prision mayor minimum. If it exceeds P22,000, it is that penalty plus one year for every P10,000, but in no case more than 20 years. Then the law states that in that event the penalty should be “termed” prision mayor or reclusion temporal, “as the case may be.”

Accordingly, if the amount involved is, say, P500 Million, the penalty prescribed by law is reclusion temporal. Hence, the penalty one degree lower than that is prision mayor and it is within this one-degree lower penalty, i.e., prision mayor, that the minimum of the indeterminate sentence is to be fixed.

To this the SC ruled:

Justice Azcuna’s interpretation is plausible BUT in construing penal statutes, as between two reasonable but contradictory constructions, the one more favorable to the accused should be upheld. For a court to enforce a penalty where the legislature has not clearly and unequivocally prescribed it could result in judicial usurpation of the legislative function.

Read full text.

NOTE: In 2017, RA 10951 became effective which modified the penalty for estafa, thus:

ART. 319. xxx The penalty of prisión correccional in its maximum period to prisión mayor in its minimum period, if the amount of the fraud is over Two million four hundred thousand pesos (₱2,400,000) but does not exceed Four million four hundred thousand pesos (₱4,400,000), 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 Two million pesos (₱2,000,000); but the total penalty which may be imposed shall not exceed twenty years. In such cases, and in connection with the accessory penalties which may be imposed and for the purpose of the other provisions of this Code, the penalty shall be termed prisión mayor or reclusion temporal, as the case may be.

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