SC: Mere Material Possession Not Enough to Constitute Estafa by Misappropriation

A sum of money received by an employee on behalf of the employer is merely in the material, not juridical, possession of the employee; hence misappropriation of such money does not constitute estafa.Thus, reiterated the Supreme Court’s First Division, in a Decision penned by Justice Jose Midas P. Marquez, as it ordered on ground of reasonable doubt the acquittal for estafa of a former employee of the Philippine Public School Teachers Association (PPSTA).

In 2017, Danica L. Medina was convicted of estafa under Article 315, paragraph (1)(b) of the Revised Penal Code (RPC) by the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Baguio City. Medina’s conviction was subsequently affirmed by the Court of Appeals (CA). On review, the Supreme Court held that it cannot affirm the conviction of Medina for estafa, nor convict her of any other crime because the judgment of the RTC was based on a misapprehension of facts.

A former Regional Office Staff at PPSTA CAR Regional Office, Medina’s tasks included collecting remittances from the Department of Education (DepEd) and payments from PPSTA members. When Medina failed to transmit and deposit to PPSTA’s designated bank the amount of PhP88,452.00 from September 2011 to March 2012, she was charged accordingly.

During trial, the RTC held that Medina’s failure to account for the PPSTA members’ payments constituted circumstantial evidence of misappropriation. On appeal, the CA affirmed the Decision of the RTC, with a modification as to the penalty.

In reversing the RTC and CA’s rulings, the High Court stressed that to be convicted of the crime of estafa by misappropriation, juridical possession must be established. As held in jurisprudence, juridical possession is possession which gives the transferee a right over the property received, which the transferee may set up even against the owner.

To illustrate, the Court cited the 2014 case of Balerta v. People, where a cash custodian receiving funds on her employer’s behalf, with no independent right or title to such funds, was found merely in material possession of the said funds, hence the element of juridical possession is not present.

In the case of Medina, the Court found that the record is bereft of any allegation or proof that Medina had any independent right or title to these funds that she could set up against PPSTA. Contrary to the findings of the CA, Medina was not a “trustee” of the PPSTA members’ payments, as she received these sums as an employee of, and on behalf of her employer. As Medina only had material and not juridical possession of these funds, she cannot be convicted for estafa under Art. 315(b)(l), RPC.

Neither could Medina be convicted for simple or qualified theft.

Simple theft is committed when the following elements are present: (1) taking of personal property; (2) that the said property belongs to another; (3) that the said taking be done with intent to gain; (4) that it be done without the owner’s consent; and (5) that it be accomplished without the use of violence or intimidation against persons nor force upon things. The theft becomes qualified when it is committed with grave abuse of confidence.

In Medina’s case, the element of taking was not established by proof beyond reasonable doubt; hence, a conviction for simple or qualified theft cannot lie.

“In all criminal prosecutions, it is the prosecution that bears the burden to establish the guilt of the accused beyond reasonable doubt. In discharging such burden, the prosecution has the duty to prove each element of the crime charged in the information to warrant a finding of guilt for that crime or any other crime that is necessarily included therein,” concluded the Court. (Courtesy of the Supreme Court Public Information Office)

Full text of G.R. No. 255632 (Medina v. People, July 25, 2023) at: