People v. Sison (G.R. No. 187160. August 09, 2017)


The RTC found Sison guilty (1) illegal recruitment involving economic sabotage, and (2) estafa under Article 315 of the RPC.

FACTS: Sometime in November or December 1999, Darvy M. Castuera (Castuera) was introduced to Sison by her husband, a certain Col. Alex Sison (Col. Sison), a police officer assigned at Camp Crame, Quezon City. Castuera's aunt, Edna Magalona, was then teaching police officers at Camp Crame and Col. Sison was one of her students. Col. Sison happened to mention that his wife can facilitate papers for workers in Australia. Castuera and Magalona then proceeded to Col. Sison's home in Las Pinas. There, they met Sison and she briefed Castuera on the requirements for working as a fruit picker in Australia.

During that meeting, Sison introduced Castuera to another man who related that he was able to go to Australia with Sison's help. She also showed Castuera pictures of other people she had supposedly helped to get employment in Australia. Sison further narrated that a couple she had helped had given her their car as payment. Because of Sison's representations, Castuera believed in her promise that she could send him to Australia.

Sison asked Castuera for P180,000 for processing his papers. After some negotiations, Sison agreed to lower the fee to P160,000. Castuera was to pay half before he leaves the Philippines and the other half will be taken from his salary in Australia.

On 16 June 2000, Castuera met Sison at McDonald's in SM Megamall to give the P80,000 down payment. Sison issued a signed document as proof of payment. Castuera's companions, his aunt Edna Magalona and cousin Mark Magalona, also signed the document as witnesses. Sison promised Castuera that she would personally process his visa application.

Sison, however, failed to secure an Australian visa for Castuera. She told him that it was difficult to get an Australian visa in the Philippines so they had to go to Malaysia to get one. She also said that Castuera's Australian visa was already in Malaysia and his personal appearance was required there.

On 28 June 2008, Sison and Castuera left Manila for Zamboanga City by plane and from there, rode a boat to Sandakan, Malaysia. Sison told Castuera that he only needed to stay in Malaysia for a week then he would proceed to Australia.

Twice, they nearly overstayed in Malaysia. Each time, Sison and Castuera would leave for Brunei, stay there for three days, and then go back to Malaysia. The second time they returned to Malaysia, they met several of Sison's other recruits - other Filipinos who have come in through Thailand - as well as Sison's co-accused, Rea Dedales (Dedales) and Leonardo Bacomo (Bacomo). Castuera was told that the group would be proceeding to Indonesia to process their Australian visas there. The group then left for Indonesia. However, the day after arriving in Indonesia, Sison went back to the Philippines, leaving Castuera and the other recruits with Dedales and Bacomo.

Subsequently, Castuera's application for an Australian visa in Indonesia was denied. Dedales said it was harder to get an Australian visa from Indonesia and told Castuera to apply for a U.S. visa instead. Dedales asked for US$1,000 for the processing of his U.S. visa, which he paid. However, when his U.S. visa came, Castuera saw that it was in an Indonesian passport bearing an Indonesian name. Because of this, Castuera decided to just return to the Philippines. He asked for his US$1,000 back but Dedales would not return it. His Philippine passport was also not returned immediately causing him to overstay in Indonesia. He found out then that the extension papers that Dedales and Bacomo procured for him were fake.

Castuera sought the help of the Philippine Embassy in Indonesia and was able to return to the Philippines using his own funds.

Upon returning to the Philippines, Castuera filed a complaint against Sison, Dedales, and Bacomo at the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA). The agency verified that Sison, Dedales, and Bacomo did not have any license or permit to hire and recruit for overseas employment.

ISSUE: Is the accused guilty of illegal recruitment and placement via a syndicate?

Is the accused guilty of estafa?

Can the accused be held guilty of both illegal recruitment and estafa?

HELD: The appeal has no merit. The assailed decision of the Court of Appeals is affirmed, with modification as to the penalty imposed in the estafa case.
Illegal Recruitment by a Syndicate - Economic Sabotage. Under Article 13(b) of Presidential Decree No. 442, as amended, also known as the Labor Code of the Philippinesrecruitment and placement refers to "any act of canvassing, enlisting, contracting, transporting, utilizing, hiring, or procuring workers, and includes referrals, contact services, promising or advertising for employment, locally or abroad, whether for profit or not: Provided, That any person or entity which, in any manner, offers or promises for a fee employment to two or more persons shall be deemed engaged in recruitment and placement."
Illegal recruitment, on the other hand, is defined in Article 38:
Article 38. ILLEGAL RECRUITMENT. - (a) Any recruitment activities, including the prohibited practices enumerated under Article 34 of this Code, to be undertaken by non-licensees or non-holders of authority shall be deemed illegal and punishable under Article 39 of this Code. The Department of Labor and Employment or any law enforcement officer may initiate complaints under this Article. x x x x
RA 8042 or the Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos Act of 1995, approved on 7 June 1995, further strengthened the protection extended to those seeking overseas employment. Section 6, in particular, extended the activities covered under the term illegal recruitment:
Sec. 6. DEFINITIONS. - For purposes of this Act, illegal recruitment [shall xxx] include the following acts:

(m) Failure to reimburse expenses incurred by the workers in connection with his documentation and processing for purposes of deployment, in cases where the deployment does not actually take place without the worker's fault. Illegal recruitment when committed by a syndicate or in large scale shall be considered as offense involving economic sabotage.

Illegal recruitment is deemed committed by a syndicate carried out by a group of three (3) or more persons conspiring or confederating with one another. It is deemed committed in large scale if committed against three (3) or more persons individually or as a group.
Simply put, illegal recruitment is "committed by persons who, without authority from the government, give the impression that they have the power to send workers abroad for employment purposes." To prove illegal recruitment, it must be shown that "the accused gave the complainants the distinct impression that she had the power or ability to deploy the complainants abroad in a manner that they were convinced to part with their money for that end."

Illegal recruitment may be undertaken by either non-license or license holders. Non-license holders are liable by the simple act of engaging in recruitment and placement activities, while license holders may also be held liable for committing the acts prohibited under Section 6 of RA 8042.Under RA 8042, a non-licensee or non-holder of authority commits illegal recruitment for overseas employment in two ways: (1) by any act of canvassing, enlisting, contracting, transporting, utilizing, hiring, or procuring workers, and includes referring, contract services, promising or advertising for employment abroad, whether for profit or not; or (2) by undertaking any of the acts enumerated under Section 6 of RA 8042.

In this case, Sison herself admits that she has no license or authority to undertake recruitment and placement activities. The Court has held in several cases that an accused who represents to others that he or she could send workers abroad for employment, even without the authority or license to do so, commits illegal recruitment.

Illegal recruitment committed by a syndicate, as in the present case, has the following elements: (a) the offender does not have the valid license or authority required by law to engage in recruitment and placement of workers; (b) the offender undertakes any of the "recruitment and placement" activities defined in Article 13(b) of the Labor Code, or engages in any of the prohibited practices enumerated under now Section 6 of RA 8042; and (c) the illegal recruitment is "carried out by a group of three or more persons conspiring and/or confederating with one another in carrying out any unlawful or illegal transaction, enterprise or scheme." In the third element, it "is not essential that there be actual proof that all the conspirators took a direct part in every act. It is sufficient that they acted in concert pursuant to the same objective."

The acts of Sison, Dedales, and Bacomo show a common purpose and and each undertook a part to reach their objective. Their concerted action is evident in that either Sison or Dedales was receiving payments from the recruits; that Dedales signed the acknowledgment receipt from Sison; and that the three accompanied their recruits together in seeking out their visas in Malaysia and Indonesia. Further, the impression given to Castuera and other recruits was that the three were indeed working together.

Since it was proven that the three accused were acting in concert and conspired with one another, their illegal recruitment activity is considered done by a syndicate, making the offense illegal recruitment involving economic sabotage. The penalty of life imprisonment and a fine of not less than five hundred thousand pesos (P500,000.00) nor more than one million pesos (P1,000,000.00) shall be imposed.

Estafa. The Court affirmed Sison's conviction for estafa under Article 315(2)(a) of the RPC. It is settled that a person, for the same acts, may be convicted separately for illegal recruitment under RA 8042 and estafa under Article 315(2)(a) of the RPC. In People v. Daud, the Court explained:
The offense of illegal recruitment is malum prohibitum where the criminal intent of the accused is not necessary. for conviction, while estafa is malum in se where the criminal intent of the accused is crucial for conviction. Conviction for offenses under the Labor Code does not bar conviction for offenses punishable by other laws. 
The elements of estafa by means of deceit under Article 315(2)(a) of the RPC are:

(a) that there must be a false pretense or fraudulent representation as to his power, influence, qualifications, property, credit, agency, business or imaginary transactions; (b) that such false pretense or fraudulent representation was made or executed prior to or simultaneously with the commission of the fraud; (c) that the offended party relied on the false pretense, fraudulent act, or fraudulent means and was induced to part with his money or property; and (d) that, as a result thereof, the offended party suffered damage.

All these elements are present in this case.

First, Sison misrepresented her qualifications and authority to send Castuera to work in Australia. She actively made Castuera believe that she had the ability to do so — she showed pictures of her "recruits," had one of them give a testimonial, and told him stories to convince him of such ability. It did not matter that "they had no agreement"that their transaction was for recruitment or deployment. All her acts were calculated to convince Castuera that Sison was qualified to send him abroad for employment. It is enough that she "gave the impression that [she] had the power to send workers abroad for employment purposes."

Second, Sison's false representation was made prior to or simultaneous to the commission of the fraud. Sison used these false representations to convince Castuera that he would be able to go to Australia and be a fruit picker, just like her other recruits. These representations were clearly mere devices to convince Castuera, whom she only met at that time, that she was a legitimate recruiter.

Third, Castuera relied on Sison's representations. He believed that she could send him to Australia because of the pictures and testimonials she showed him. He also relied on the fact that his aunt knew Sison's husband, a police officer, adding to her trustworthiness. Sison banked on that trust to convince Castuera to part with his money and be "recruited" into overseas employment. Castuera believed that Sison had the same ability to send him to Australia. He did not even ask for her authority or check for himself with the POEA, relying instead on her word. This tells us that he was fully convinced based on Sison's representations.

Fourth, Sison's misrepresentation resulted in damage to Castuera. He paid the P80,000 down payment that Sison required of him as processing fee, but the purpose for which it was paid never materialized. Likewise, said amount was never reimbursed to Castuera despite his demands for its return.

[40] People v. Arnaiz, G.R. No. 205153, 9 September 2015, 770 SCRA 319.
[41] People v. Tolentino, G.R. No. 208686, 1 July 2015, 761 SCRA 332.
[42] Id., citing People v. Inovero, 131 Phil. 116, 126 (2014); People v. Lalli, 675 Phil. 126, 152 (2011); People v. Abat, 661 Phil. 127, 132-133 (2011).
[43] People v. Abat, 661 Phil. 127, 132 (2011).
[44] People v. Fernandez, 735 Phil. 340, 345 (2014).
[45] People v. Daud, 134 Phil. 698, 717-718 (2014).
[46] Id, citing People v. Ocden, 665 Phil. 268, 289 (2011).
[47] People v. Inovero, supra note 42, at 127 (2014).
[50] People v. Daud, supra note 45, at 720, citing People v. Yabut, 374 Phil. 575, 586 (1999).
[51] Suliman v. People, 747 Phil. 719, 731 (2014). Citations omitted.
[53] People v. Arnaiz, supra note 40.
[54] Section 1, Act No. 4103, as amended (Indeterminate Sentence Law).
[55] People v. Fernandez, supra note 44, at 347.
[56] People v. Tolentino, supra note 41.
[57] Republic v. Tuvera, 545 Phil. 21, 57 (2007).
[58] Spouses Ouisumbing v. Manila Electric Company, 429 Phil. 727, 747 (2002).