Bernadette was convicted by the Metropolitan Trial Court of Las Pinas City for 51 counts of violation of BP 22. She appealed to the RTC, which modified the penalty imposed by the MeTC, by imposing upon Bernadette the penalty of one year imprisonment for every count of BP 22, or a total of 51 years imprisonment. The CA affirmed the RTC, hence Bernadette elevated her case to the Supreme Court arguing that the RTC erred in modifying the penalty because it it excessive.
Whether or not the penalty imposed on Bernadette by the RTC is correct.
The petition is meritorious.
To begin with, there is no doubt that the petitioner committed violations of B.P. Blg. 22 and the petitioner does not dispute the judgment of the lower courts finding her guilty as charged. However, she assails the penalty of imprisonment of one (1) year of prision correccional for each count of violation of B.P. Blg. 22 or a total of 51 years imposed upon her.
While the Court sustains the conviction of the petitioner, it is appropriate to modify the penalty of imprisonment that was imposed since it is out of the range of the penalty prescribed in Section 11 of B.P. Blg. 22 and in view of Administrative Circular (A.C.) No. 12-2000,2 which provides:
Section 1 of B.P. Blg. 22 (An Act Penalizing the Making or Drawing and Issuance of a Check Without Sufficient Funds for Credit and for Other Purposes) imposes the penalty of imprisonment of not less than thirty (30) days but not more than one (1) year or a fine of not less than but not more than double the amount of the check, which fine shall in no case exceed P200,000[.00], or both such fine and imprisonment at the discretion of the court.
The underlying principle behind A.C. No. 12-2000 was established by the Court in its ruling in Vaca v. CA3 and Lim v. People of the Philippines4. In these cases, the Court held that “it would best serve the ends of criminal justice if, in fixing the penalty to be imposed for violation of B.P. [Blg.] 22, the same philosophy underlying the Indeterminate Sentence Law is observed, i. e. that of redeeming valuable human material and preventing unnecessary deprivation of personal liberty and economic usefulness with due regard to the protection of the social order.”5
In A.C. No. 13-2001,6 clarifications have been made as to queries regarding the authority of Judges to impose the penalty of imprisonment for violations of B.P. Blg. 22. The Court explained that the clear tenor and intention of A.C. No. 12-2000 is not to remove imprisonment as an alternative penalty, but to lay down a rule of preference in the application of the penalties provided for in B.P. Blg. 22.7 The Court was emphatic in clarifying that it is not the Court’s intention to decriminalize violation of B.P. Blg. 22 or to delete the alternative penalty of imprisonment. The rule of preference provided in A.C. No. 12-2000 does not foreclose the possibility of imprisonment for violators of B.P. Blg. 22, neither does it defeat the legislative intent behind the law.8
To reiterate, A.C. No. 12-2000 merely establishes a rule of preference in the application of the penal provisions of B.P. Blg. 22, and Section 1 thereof imposes the following alternative penalties for its violation, to wit: (a) imprisonment of not less than 30 days but not more than one year; or (b) a fine of not less than but not more than double the amount of the check which fine shall in no case exceed P200,000[.00]; or (c) both such fine and imprisonment at the discretion of the court.9
There is an array of cases where this Court merely imposes fine rather than both fine and imprisonment. In Lee v. CA,10 the Court ruled that the policy laid down in the cases of Vaca and Lim with regard to redeeming valuable human material and preventing unnecessary deprivation of personal liberty and economic usefulness, should be considered in favor of the accused who is not shown to be a habitual delinquent or a recidivist11. Said doctrines squarely apply in the instant case there being no proof or allegation that the petitioner is not a first time offender.
Moreover, the lower courts should have considered that the penalty of imprisonment must be graduated or proportionate to the amount of the check rather than imposing the same penalty of one year of prision correccional for the check that bounced amounting to P7,600.00 and the one for P200,000.00. Thus, a guilty person who issued a worthless check of lesser amount could be imprisoned for the same term as that of a guilty person who issued one worth millions. “Justice demands that crime be punished and that the penalty imposed to be commensurate with the offense committed.”12
Indeed, the imposition by the RTC, as affirmed by the CA, of imprisonment of one year of prision correccional for each count of violation of B.P. Blg. 22 resulting in a total of 51 years is too harsh taking into consideration the fact that the petitioner is not a recidivist, and that past transactions show that the petitioner had made good in her payment. It cannot be gainsaid that what is involved here is the life and liberty of the petitioner. If her penalty of imprisonment remains uncorrected, it would not be conformable with law and she would be made to suffer the penalty of imprisonment of 51 years, which is outside the range of the penalty prescribed by law; thus, the penalty imposed upon the petitioner should be duly corrected.
“An appeal in a criminal case throws the entire case for review and it becomes our duty to correct any error, as may be found in the appealed judgment, whether assigned as an error or not.”13 Accordingly, the Court finds that the penalty of imprisonment imposed by the lower courts should be modified to six (6) months for each count of violations of B.P. Blg. 22. Furthermore, the total amount of the subject checks which corresponds to the pieces of jewelry that was given and guaranteed to be sold by the petitioner should also be returned to Carullo. Lastly, considering that the lower courts failed to award interest on the amount due to Carullo, it is but proper to grant interest at the rate of six percent (6%) per annum reckoned from the date of finality of this Decision until fully paid.14
WHEREFORE, the petition is PARTLY GRANTED. The Decision dated July 30, 2008 and the Resolution dated November 5, 2008 of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. CR No. 30242, finding petitioner Bernadette Ida Ang Higa GUILTY beyond reasonable doubt of fifty-one (51) counts of violation of Batas Pambansa Bilang 22, are AFFIRMED with the following MODIFICATIONS:
(a) Bernadette Ida Ang Higa is hereby sentenced to a penalty of six (6) months imprisonment for each count, to be served in accordance with the limitation prescribed in paragraph (4),15 Article 70 of the Revised Penal Code;
(b) Bernadette Ida Ang Higa is ORDERED to indemnify Ma. Vicia Carullo the amount of the checks in their totality, or in the amount of Six Million Ninety-Three Thousand Five Flundred Fifty Pesos (P6,093,550.00); and
(c) All the monetary award shall earn interest at the legal rate of six percent (6%) per annum from the date of finality of this Decision until fully paid.
Velasco, Jr., (Chairperson), Peralta, Perez, and Jardeleza, JJ., concur.
THIRD DIVISION, G.R. No. 185473, August 17, 2016, BERNADETTE IDA ANG HIGA, PETITIONER, VS. PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, RESPONDENT.
1 Sec. 1. Checks without sufficient funds. – Any person who makes or draws and issues any check to apply on account or for value, knowing at the time of issue that he does not have sufficient funds in or credit with the drawee bank for the payment of such check in full upon its presentment, which check is subsequently dishonored by the drawee bank for insufficiency of funds or credit or would have been dishonored for the same reason had not the drawer, without any valid reason, ordered the bank to stop payment, shall be punished by imprisonment of not less than thirty days but not more than one (1) year or by a fine of not less than but not more than double the amount of the check which fine shall in no case exceed Two Hundred Thousand Pesos, or both such fine and imprisonment at the discretion of the court.
x x x x
2 RE: PENALTY FOR VIOLATION OF B.P. BLG. 22. Issued on November 21, 2000.
3 394 Phil. 844 (2000).
4 359 Phil. 187 (1998).
5 Tan v. Menclez, Jr., 432 Phil. 760, 772-773 (2002).
6 SUBJECT: CLARIFICATION OF ADMINISTRATIVE CIRCULAR NO. 12-2000 ON THE PENALTY FOR VIOLATION OF BATAS PAMBANSA BLG. 22, OTHERWISE KNOWN AS THE BOUNCING CHECK LAW. Issued on February 14, 2001.
7 Julie S. Sumbilla v. Matrix Finance Corporation, G.R. No. 197582, June 29, 2015.
8 A.C. No. 13-2001, paragraph (3).
9 Tan v. Mendez, Jr., supra note 24, at 772.
10 489 Phil. 420 (2005).
11 Id. at 443.
12 See Associate Justice Presbitero J. Velasco, Jr.’s Dissenting Opinion in People v. Temporada, 594 Phil. 680, 762 (2008).
13 Lee v. CA, supra note 29, at 443.
14 People v. Cabungan, 702 Phil. 177, 190 (2013).
15 rt. 70. Successive service of sentences; exception. – x x x.
x x x x
Notwithstanding the provisions of the rule next preceding, 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. No other penalty to which he may be liable shall be inflicted after the sum total of those imposed equals the same maximum period.
Such maximum period shall in no case exceed forty years.
x x x x