THIRD DIVISION

[G.R. No. 133036. January 22, 2003]

JOY LEE RECUERDO, petitioner, vs. PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES AND THE COURT OF APPEALS, respondents.

D E C I S I O N

CARPIO-MORALES, J.:

Before us for review is the July 16, 1997 decision of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. No. 20577 affirming that rendered by the Regional Trial Court (RTC), Branch 150, Makati City which in turn affirmed that of the Metropolitan Trial Court (MeTC) of Makati City, Branch 67 convicting Joy Lee Recuerdo (petitioner) for violation of Batas Pambansa Blg. 22 (The Bouncing Checks Law) on 5 counts.

From the evidence of the prosecution, the following facts are established:

Sometime in the first week of December 1993, Yolanda Floro (Yolanda) who is engaged in jewelry business sold a 3-karat loose diamond stone valued at P420,000.00 to petitioner who gave a downpayment of P40,000.00. In settlement of the balance of the purchase price, petitioner issued 9 postdated checks, 8 of which in the amount of P40,000.00, and 1 in the amount of P20,000.00, all drawn against her account at the Prudential Bank.[1]

When Yolanda deposited 8 of the 10 checks to her depository bank, Liberty Savings and Loan Association, only 3, those dated December 25, 1993, January 25, 1994, and February 25, 1994, were cleared. The remaining 5 were dishonored due to the closure of petitioners account.[2]

Yolanda thus went to petitioners dental clinic and advised her to change the dishonored checks to cash. Petitioner promised alright but she welshed on it.[3]

A demand letter[4] was thereupon sent to petitioner for her to settle her obligation but she failed to heed the same,[5] hence, the filing of 5 informations[6] against her for violation of B. P. 22 at the Makati MeTC, the accusatory portion of the first of which reads:

That sometime in the first week of December, 1993, in the Municipality of Makati, Metro Manila, Philippines, and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the above-named accused, did then and there willfully, unlawfully and feloniously make out, drawn (sic) and issue to YOLANDA G. FLORO to apply on account or for value the check described below:

Check No. - 008789

Drawn Against - Prudential Bank

In the Amount of - P40,000.00

Postdated/dated - July 25, 1994

Payable to - Cash

said accused well knowing that at the time of issue thereof, said account did not have sufficient funds in or credit with the drawee bank for the payment in full of the face amount of such check upon its presentment, which check when presented for payment within ninety (90) days from the date thereof was subsequently dishonored by the drawee bank for the reason ACCOUNT CLOSED and despite receipt of notice of such dishonor, the accused failed to pay said payee the face amount of said check or to make arrangement for full payment within five (5) banking days after receiving said notice.

Except for the check numbers and dates of maturity, the four other informations are similarly worded.

After trial, Branch 67 of the Makati MeTC convicted petitioner in a Joint Decision[7] the dispositive portion of which reads:

Wherefore, in view of the foregoing, the court finds the accused guilty beyond reasonable doubt of Violation of Batas Pambansa Bilang 22 on five (5) counts and therefore sentences the accused to suffer an imprisonment of 30 days for each count and to restitute the amount of P 200,000.00 to Miss Yolanda G. Floro, which is the total amount of the five (5) checks, and to pay her also the amount of P20,000.00 as damages to compensate the payment of attorneys fees.

SO ORDERED.[8]

As stated early on, the RTC, on appeal, affirmed the decision of the MeTC.[9] And the Court of Appeals[10] affirmed that of the RTC.

In the petition for review on certiorari at bar, petitioner proffers as follows:

1. Petitioner was convicted by an invalid law which is Batas Pambansa Blg. 22 for being an unconstitutional law.

2. Petitioner was denied her constitutional right to due process for failure of the courts a quo to uphold her presumption of innocence and for convicting her even if the prosecution evidence does not prove her guilt beyond reasonable doubt.

3. The findings of fact of the courts a quo, primarily the Court of Appeals, are based on surmises, conjectures and speculations.

4. The Court of Appeals was biased against petitioner when it denied the petition moto propio (sic) without the comment of the Office of the Solicitor General.[11]

Petitioner contends that since banks are not damaged by the presentment of dishonored checks as they impose a penalty for each, only creditors/payees are unduly favored by the law; that the law is in essence a resurrected form of 19th century imprisonment for debt since the drawer is coerced to pay his debt on threat of imprisonment even if his failure to pay does not arise from malice or fraud or from any criminal intent to cause damage;[12] and that the law is a bill of attainder[13] as it does not leave much room for judicial determination, the guilt of the accused having already been decided by the legislature.[14]

These matters subject of petitioners contention have long been settled in the landmark case of Lozano v. Martinez[15] where this Court upheld the constitutionality of B. P. 22:

The gravamen of the offense punished by BP 22 is the act of making and issuing a worthless check or a check that is dishonored upon its presentation for payment. It is not the non-payment of an obligation which the law punishes. The law is not intended or designed to coerce a debtor to pay his debt. The thrust of the law is to prohibit, under pain of penal sanctions, the making of worthless checks and putting them in circulation. Because of its deleterious effects on the public interest, the practice is proscribed by law. The law punishes the act not as an offense against property, but an offense against public order.[16] (Emphasis supplied)

The contention that B. P. 22 is a bill of attainder, one which inflicts punishment without trial and the essence of which is the substitution of a legislative for a judicial determination of guilt,[17] fails. For under B. P. 22, every element of the crime is still to be proven before the trial court to warrant a conviction for violation thereof.

Reinforcing her thesis, petitioner cites the speech made by now Vice-President Teofisto Guingona delivered before the Philippine Bar Association wherein he stressed the need to review the law since it has not prevented the proliferation of bouncing checks.[18]

As correctly argued by the Solicitor General, however, while due deference is given to the opinion of the Vice-President, the same should properly be addressed to the legislature which is in a better position to review the effectiveness and usefulness of the law.[19] As held in the case of Lozano,[20] it is not for the Court to question the wisdom or policy of the statute. It is sufficient that a reasonable nexus exists between the means and the end.

Petitioner further claims that the dishonored checks were not issued for deposit and encashment,[21] nor was there consideration therefor, in support of which she cites her alleged agreement with Yolanda that she could have the stone appraised to determine the purchase price,[22] and since she found out that it is only worth P160,000.00,[23] there was no longer any need to fund the remaining checks which should be returned to her.[24] Yolanda, however, so petitioner adds, could no longer be reached.[25] Petitioner thus concludes that she had already paid in full the purchase price of the stone, she having paid P40,000.00 cash plus the P120,000.00 proceeds of the three cleared checks.[26]

Petitioners submission does not lie. Such alleged agreement does not inspire belief. The terms and conditions surrounding the issuance of the checks are irrelevant.[27]

A check issued as an evidence of debt, though not intended for encashment, has the same effect like any other check. It is within the contemplation of B.P. 22, which is explicit that any person who makes or draws and issues any check to apply for an account or for value, knowing at the time of issue that he does not have sufficient funds in or credit with the drawee bank x x x which check is subsequently dishonored x x x shall be punished by imprisonment.[28] (Emphasis supplied.)

BP 22 does not appear to concern itself with what might actually be envisioned by the parties, its primordial intention being to instead ensure the stability and commercial value of checks as being virtual substitutes for currency. It is a policy that can be easily eroded if one has yet to determine the reason for which checks are issued, or the terms and conditions for their issuance, before an appropriate application of the legislative enactment can be made.[29] (Emphasis supplied)

Additionally, petitioner argues that as no bank representative testified as to whether the questioned checks were dishonored due to insufficiency of funds (sic), such element was not clearly and convincingly proven,[30] hence, the trial court failed to uphold her right to presumption of innocence when she was convicted based on the sole testimony of Yolanda.

Whether the checks were dishonored due to insufficiency of funds, or Account Closed as alleged in the informations and testified on by Yolanda,[31] petitioners argument is untenable.

It is not required much less indispensable, for the prosecution to present the drawee banks representative as a witness to testify on the dishonor of the checks because of insufficiency of funds. The prosecution may present, as it did in this case, only complainant as a witness to prove all the elements of the offense charged. She is competent and qualified witness to testify that she deposited the checks to her account in a bank; that she subsequently received from the bank the checks returned unpaid with a notation drawn against insufficient funds stamped or written on the dorsal side of the checks themselves, or in a notice attached to the dishonored checks duly given to the complainant, and that petitioner failed to pay complainant the value of the checks or make arrangements for their payment in full within five (5) banking days after receiving notice that such checks had not been paid by the drawee bank.[32] (Emphasis supplied)

Yolandas testimony that when she deposited the checks to her depository bank they were dishonored due to Account Closed[33] thus sufficed. In fact, even petitioners counsel during trial admitted the dishonor, and on that ground.[34]

Finally, petitioner imputes bias on the part of the appellate court when it decided her petition for review without the comment of the Office of the Solicitor General.

The rendition of the decision by the appellate court without the comment of the People-Appellee is not by itself proof of bias. In any event, the Office of the Solicitor General gave its comment on petitioners Motion for Reconsideration of the appellate courts decision.

In fine, the affirmance of petitioners conviction is in order.

Under Administrative Circular No. 12-2000, imprisonment need not be imposed on those found guilty of violating B.P. Blg. 22. Administrative Circular No. 13-2001 issued on February 14, 2001 vests in the courts the discretion to determine, taking into consideration the peculiar circumstances of each case, whether the imposition of fine alone would best serve the interests of justice, or whether forbearing to impose imprisonment would depreciate the seriousness of the offense, work violence on the social order, or otherwise contrary to the imperatives of justice.[35]

In the case at bar, this Court notes that no proof, nay allegation, was proffered that petitioner was not a first time offender. Considering this and the correctness of the case, it would best serve the interests of justice if petitioner is just fined to enable her to continue her dental practice so as not to deprive her of her income, thus insuring the early settlement of the civil aspect of the case, not to mention the FINE.

WHEREFORE, the assailed decision of the Court of Appeals finding petitioner JOY LEE RECUERDO guilty of violating Batas Pambansa Blg. 22 is AFFIRMED with MODIFICATION.

In lieu of imprisonment, accused-herein petitioner JOY LEE RECUERDO, is ordered to pay a FINE equivalent to double the amount of each dishonored check subject of the five cases at bar. And she is also ordered to pay private complainant, Yolanda Floro, the amount of Two Hundred Thousand (P200,000.00) Pesos representing the total amount of the dishonored checks.

SO ORDERED.

Puno, (Chairman), Panganiban, Sandoval-Gutierrez, and Corona, JJ., concur.



[1] Court of Appeals Rollo, [hereinafter CA Rollo] pp. 32 - 34.

[2] Id. at pp. 35, 38.

[3] Id. at p. 40.

[4] From the CA Rollo, it is gathered that the letter of demand was marked as Exhibit F.

[5] CA Rollo, pp. 40-42.

[6] CA Rollo, pp. 24-28.

[7] Penned by Judge Leticia Querubin Ulibarri.

[8] Rollo, p. 53.

[9] Penned by Judge Erna Falloran Aliposa.

[10] Penned by Justice Romeo Callejo, Sr. (now Supreme Court Justice).

[11] Rollo, pp. 12-13.

[12] Rollo, p. 17.

[13] Id. at p. 18.

[14] Id. at pp. 17-18.

[15] 146 SCRA 323 (1986).

[16] Lozano v. Martinez, 146 SCRA 323 (1986).

[17] People v. Ferrer, 48 SCRA 382 (1972).

[18] Rollo, p. 19.

[19] Id. at p. 138.

[20] Supra.

[21] CA Rollo, p. 66.

[22] Id. at p. 69.

[23] Id. at p. 72.

[24] Id. at p. 73.

[25] Id. at p. 74.

[26] Rollo, p. 24.

[27] Lim v. People, 340 SCRA 497 (2000).

[28] Dico, Jr. v. Court of Appeals, 305 SCRA 637 (1999).

[29] Meriz v. People, G. R. No. 134498, November 13, 2001.

[30] Rollo, p. 21.

[31] CA Rollo, p. 35.

[32] Tadeo v. People, 300 SCRA 744 (1998).

[33] CA Rollo, p. 35.

[34] Id. at p. 38.

[35] So v. Court of Appeals, G. R. No. 138869, August 29, 2002.