EN BANC

 

          G.R. No. 173473 (People of the Philippines vs. Beth Temporada)

 

                                                                             Promulgated:

                                                                             December 17, 2008

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D I S S E N T I N G    O P I N I O N

 

          I join the dissent of Chief Justice Reynato S. Puno.

 

          It is clear that if the amount of fraud is over PhP 12,000 but does not exceed PhP 22,000, the penalty prescribed by Article 315 of the Revised Penal Code is prision correccional in its maximum to prision mayor in its minimum.  Applying the Indeterminate Sentence Law (ISL), the RPC prescribed penalty will constitute the maximum period and the penalty next lower is prision correccional in its minimum to medium periods (6 months and 1 day to 4 years and 2 months).  The ISL gives the judge the discretion in fixing the minimum penalty within the penalty next lower than the RPC prescribed penalty.  Thus, the judge for an estafa involving over PhP 12,000 but not exceeding PhP 22,000 can prescribe the penalty of 4 years and 2 months as minimum period.

 

          On the other hand, for the crime of estafa involving an amount exceeding PhP 22,000, which can go as high as several millions of pesos, the majority view posits that the RPC prescribed penalty is still prision correccional in its maximum period to prision mayor in its minimum period as the minimum period and the adjusted penalty based on the formula of 1 year per every PhP 10,000 but not to exceed 20 years is the maximum period.  Thus following this line of reasoning, it admits that the penalty next lower would be prision correccional in its minimum and medium periods.  Applying the ISL, the minimum period for an estafa of over PhP 22,000 can very well be 4 years and 2 months—exactly the same minimum penalty for estafa involving over PhP 12,000 but not exceeding PhP 22,000.

 

          This result would be at war with the principle that the penalty for estafa is strictly based on the value or amount involved.[1]  This doctrine is captured in the graduation of penalties under Article 315(1), thus:

 

Article 315

Amount

Penalty

4th par.

Less than P200.00

Arresto Mayor in its medium and maximum period

3rd par.

Over P200.00 but less than P6,000.00

Arresto Mayor in its maximum period to prision correccional in its minimum period

2nd par.

Over P6,000.00 but less than P12,000.00

Prision correccional in its minimum and medium period

1st par.

Over P12,000.00 but less than P22,000.00

Prision correccional in its maximum period to prision mayor in its minimum period

1st par.

Over P22,000.00 add 1 year

(should be Prision Mayor or Reclusion Temporal)

 

          It is obvious that the intent of the legislators in enacting Art. 315 of the RPC is to impose a penalty for estafa that is graduated—the graduation being based on the amount of the fraud.  The higher the amount, the higher is the period of imprisonment.  If we apply the First School of Thought which the majority adopted, then the minimum period under ISL for estafa from less than PhP 12,000 up to PhP 22,000 and the estafa exceeding PhP 22,000 will always be taken from within the range of prision correccional minimum and medium (i.e., from 6 months and 1 day to 4 years and 2 months).  Thus, a swindler of a lesser amount (from PhP 12,000 to PhP 22,000) could be imprisoned for the same minimum term as a swindler of millions.  This should not be the case.  Justice demands that crime be punished and that the penalty imposed be commensurate with the offense committed.[2] 

 

          I submit that principle of proportionality between the offense committed and the penalty imposed finds application in determining the penalty for the crime of estafa.  The penalty for estafa must always be commensurate with the amount defrauded.[3]  If the concept of proportionality between the offense committed and the sanction imposed is not strictly adhered to, then unfairness and injustice will inevitably result.       

 

          It is a general rule of statutory construction that a law should not be so construed as to produce an absurd result.[4]  The law does not intend an absurdity or that an absurd consequence shall flow from its enactment.  If the words of the statute are susceptible of more than one meaning, the one that has a logical construction should be adopted over the one that will produce an absurdity.    Statutes should receive a sensible construction, such as will give effect to the legislative intention and so as to avoid an unjust or an absurd conclusion.[5]  Indeed a ridiculous situation will arise if a swindler of millions and a con man of less than PhP 22,000 will receive the same minimum sentence of 4 years and 2 months.

         

          Worse, not only is the swindler of millions entitled to a very low penalty, he might very well even be qualified to avail of probation.  A suspended execution of the penalty for a “big time” swindler could not have been intended by the framers of the Revised Penal Code.            

 

          The majority anchors its position on the postulate that all doubts should be resolved in favor of the accused.  This principle however cannot prevail over the purpose or intent of the law.  Undeniably the intendment of the law is to impose on the swindlers a higher penalty depending on the amount of fraud.  This is easily deducible from the formula of imposing an additional one year of imprisonment for every PhP 10,000 over the threshold amount of PhP 22,000.  If such was not the intent, then the RPC could have easily provided a penalty of prision mayor in its medium and maximum periods for estafa involving more than PhP 22,000 and above.  The legislators, however, insisted on a higher penalty, clearly revealing an intent impose a harsher punishment for big time “estafadors.”

 

          Another point that has to be elucidated is the proposition of the majority that the maximum period of the penalty for estafa of more than PhP 22,000 is determined by using the formula of one (1) year for every additional PhP 10,000 while the minimum period is prision correccional in its maximum period to prision mayor in its minimum period.  This is the only penalty, if accepted as correct, that has a fixed maximum period but a minimum period which is composed of two (2) periods—prision correccional in its maximum to prision mayor in its minimum period.  Nowhere in the RPC or special laws can we find a penalty prescribed in that manner.  Undoubtedly, this is not the prescribed penalty for estafa of more than PhP 22,000.

 

          I concur with the view that Art. 315(1) that the penalty for estafa of more than PhP 22,000 is a single fixed penalty of either prision mayor or reclusion temporal.

 

          I submit that the starting point for the computation of estafa of over PhP 22,000 should be the penalty of eight (8) years based on the phrase in Article 315(1) that “the penalty provided in this paragraph shall be imposed in the maximum.”  8 years of imprisonment is prision mayor in its minimum period.  Then we apply the formula of adding one (1) year for every additional PhP 10,000.  To illustrate:

 

Amount of Fraud

Imprisonment

Over 22T to 32T

9 years (prision mayor)

Over 32T to 42T

10 years

Over 42T to 52T

11 years

Over 52T to 62T

12 years

Over 62T to 72T

13 years (reclusion temporal)

Over 72T to 82T

14 years

Over 82T to 92T

15 years

Over 92T to 102T

16 years

Over 102T to 112T

17 years

Over 112T to 122T

18 years

Over 122T to 132T

19 years

Over 132T to 142T

20 years

 

          If the amount of the fraud is from PhP 22,001 to PhP 62,000 then the penalty is simply prision mayor.  If the threshold PhP 62,000 is reached, then the penalty is reclusion temporal.  The penalty cannot by express terms of the law, go higher than reclusion temporal in its maximum of 20 years.  In other words, the penalty for estafa involving an amount over PhP 22,000 up to PhP 142,000 and above is a single fixed penalty or straight penalty of either prision mayor or reclusion temporal depending on the amount.  This is clear from Art. 315, 1st par.:

 

            In such cases, and in connection with the accessory penalties which may be imposed and for the purpose of the other provisions of this Code, the penalty shall be termed prision mayor or reclusion temporal, as the case may be; x x x (emphasis supplied.)

 

          Given the above perspective, it is quite easy to compute the ISL.  If the penalty is prision mayor, the penalty next lower to that fixed by the RPC is prision correccional.  If the penalty is reclusion temporal, then the penalty next lower is prision mayor.  The judge will determine the maximum period by taking into consideration the attendant circumstances and the minimum shall be within the range of the next lower penalty.

 

          With the foregoing mode of computation, for estafa of more than PhP 22,000 up to PhP 62,000, the penalty is 12 years of prision mayor.  Applying the ISL, the penalty next lower is prision correccional—6 months, 1 day to 6 years.  The judge has the discretion to fix the minimum within the range of prision correccional.  However, since the maximum minimum penalty under ISL for estafa involving PhP 12,000 but not to exceed PhP 22,000, is 4 years and 2 months, then the minimum period for estafa of an amount over PhP 22,000 can be made higher than 4 years and 2 months.  This way, the imposition of penalties under Art. 315(1) will be in harmony with the principle of proportionality that the penalty must be commensurate to the gravity of the offense and in line with the graduation of penalties under Art. 315.

 

          For estafa involving more than PhP 62,000, then the penalty is a single fixed penalty of reclusion temporal while the penalty next lower is prision mayor.  Thus the minimum period is any penalty within 6 years and 1 day to 12 years.  The minimum period will undoubtedly be higher than the minimum period of 4 years and 2 months which has been fixed for estafa involving more than PhP 12,000 but not exceeding PhP 22,000.  This manner of computation would be more in keeping with the intent of the framers of the Revised Penal Code.

 

          Hence, my dissent.

 

 

                                                          PRESBITERO J. VELASCO, JR.



                [1] U.S. v. Fernandez, 9 Phil. 199 (1907); U.S. v. Leaño, 6 Phil. 368 (1906).

                [2] Echegaray v. Secretary of Justice, 310 SCRA 96, 138 (1999), Separate Opinion of J. Vitug citing Record of the House of Representatives re: House Bill No. 62, which later evolved into the Death Penalty Law, R.A. 7659, now repealed by R.A. 9346.

                [3] People v. Pascua, Aviguetero and Soliven, G.R. No. 125081, October 3, 2001; People v. Benemerito, G.R. No. 120389, November 21, 1996.

                [4] Ang Giok Chip v. Springfield, No. L-33637, December 31, 1931; Paras v. COMELEC, G.R. No. 123169, November 4, 1996.

                [5] Corsico, Jr. v. NLRC, G.R. No. 118432, May 23, 1997.