Penalty for Estafa under RA 10951

FIRST DIVISION [G.R. No. 241896, February 11, 2019] CHARLES MARCOS, PETITIONER, V. PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, RESPONDENT.

The petitioner's motion for an extension of thirty (30) days within which to file a petition for review on certiorari is GRANTED, counted from the expiration of the reglementary period.

After a judicious review of the records, the Court resolves to DENY the petition for failure of the petitioner to show that the Court of Appeals (CA) committed reversible error in affirming the decision of the Regional Trial Court (RTC), Branch 2, Tuguegarao City promulgated on August 18, 2016,[1] convicting petitioner of Estafa under Article 315, par. 2 (a) of the Revised Penal Code.

Estafa by means of deceit under Article 315 (2) (a) of the RPC may be established upon proof of the following elements: (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.[2]

We see no reason to disturb the ruling of the RTC, as upheld by the CA, that the foregoing elements of the crime were present in this case. Fraud and deceit were present when the petitioner misrepresented that he was engaged in the wholesale business of prepaid cards and auto load and that he offered a higher return of profit for his investors than that offered by Onon Marketing, the company with whom the petitioner claimed he also transacted. Such misrepresentation induced the petitioner's investors to part with their money and invest in the said business. The CA had therefore correctly found the petitioner to be guilty of fraud considering that he eventually admitted that he did not own the business, but was himself merely an investor.

In any case, the grounds presented by the petitioner to justify a reversal of his conviction require the consideration and review of the facts of the case. Basic is the rule that findings of the CA affirming those of the RTC as the trial court are generally conclusive on the Court which is not a trier of facts.[3]

While jurisprudence has provided exceptions to this rule, the petitioner carries the burden of proving that one or more exceptional circumstances are present in the case. The petitioner must additionally show that the cited exceptional circumstances will have a bearing on the results of the case.[4] Unfortunately, the petitioner failed to discharge such burden; hence, his conviction stands.However, We modify the penalty imposed by the CA as well as the interest rate on the actual damages to be paid by the petitioner.

First, applying Section 85 of Republic Act (R.A.) No. 10951, the penalty prescribed in this case is prision correccional in its maximum period to prision mayor in its minimum period, or 4 years, 2 months and 1 day to 8 years, since the amount involved in this case (P2,938,901.82) is over P2,400,000.00 but does not exceed P4,400,000.00.

There being no modifying circumstance to consider in this case, the medium degree of prision correccional maximum to prision mayor minimum should be imposed, which ranges from 5 years, 5 months and 11 days to 6 years, 8 months and 20 days. Applying the Indeterminate Sentence Law, the minimum term of the determinate sentence is prision correccional in its minimum and medium periods, the range of which is from 6 months and 1 day to 4 years and 2 months. Accordingly, the penalty against herein petitioner should be that of imprisonment from 1 year and 9 months of prision correctional, as minimum, to 5 years and 8 months of prision correctional, as maximum.

Second, We find merit in the petitioner's assertion that the interest imposed on the actual damages due, i.e. 8% per month, is excessive and unconscionable. In Medel v. Court of Appeals, the Court ruled that a stipulated interest of 5.5% per month is iniquitous or unconscionable, and contrary to morals, if not against the law. Such stipulation is void and the courts may reduce the interest due.[5] We have also previously held that our ruling in Medel may be applied in a criminal action on the principle that any doubt should be resolved in favor of the accused.[6] Even more favorable to an accused, we held in Svendsen v. People[7] that where the interest rate agreed upon by the parties is clearly excessive, iniquitous, and unconscionable, it may be set aside and the legal interest rate imposed.[8]

Applying these cases by analogy, the Court finds it proper to set aside the 8% per month interest rate due on the actual damages and instead impose an interest rate of 12% per annum to be computed from default, i.e., from judicial or extrajudicial demand, until June 30, 2013 and six percent (6%) per annum beginning July 1, 2013.[9] In People v. Villanueva,[10] the Court imposed interest at the rate of 12% per annum on the defrauded amount from the date the Information was filed until June 30, 2013, and interest at the rate of 6% per annum from July 1, 2013 until full satisfaction.

WHEREFORE, the Court DENIES the petition; AFFIRMS with MODIFICATION the Court of Appeals' decision dated June 7, 2018 in CA-G.R. CR No. 39775; IMPOSES the indeterminate penalty of imprisonment ranging from one (1) year and nine (9) months of prision correctional, as minimum, to five (5) years and eight (8) months of prision correctional, as maximum; DIRECTS the petitioner to pay interest on the actual damages due at a rate of 12% from February 25, 2011 to June 30, 2013 and 6% from July 1, 2013 until fully paid; and ORDERS the petitioner to pay the costs of suit.

SO ORDERED.

[1] Rollo, pp. 106-115.
[2] People v, Sison, G.R. No. 187160, August 9, 2017, 835 SCRA 620, 639.
[3] People v. Taguilid, G.R. No. 181544, April 11, 2012, 669 SCRA 341, 350.
[4] Suliman v. People, G.R. No. 190970, November 24, 2014, 741 SCRA 477, 487-488.
[5] G.R. No. 131622, November 27, 1998, 299 SCRA 481, 489-490.
[6] Macalalag v. People, G.R. No. 164358, December 20, 2006, 511 SCRA 400, 406.
[7] G.R. No. 175381, February 26, 2008, 546 SCRA 659.
[8] G.R. No. 175381, February 26, 2008, 546 SCRA 659, 668-669. In this case, the Court imposed the legal interest rate based on Eastern Shipping Lines, Inc. v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No 97412, July 13, 1994, 234 SCRA 78, 95-97.
[9] See Nacar v. Gallery Frames, G.R. No. 189871, August 13, 2013, 703 SCRA 439, 456.
[10] G.R. No. 163662, February 25, 2015, 751 SCRA 617.

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