EN BANC

 

 

LUIS MARCOS P. LAUREL,                            G.R. No. 155076

                             Petitioner,

                                                                   Present:

                              

                                                                     Puno, C.J.,         

                                                                     Quisumbing,

                                                                     Ynares-Santiago,

                                                            Carpio,

- versus -                                              Austria-Martinez,

  Corona,

  Carpio Morales,

  Azcuna,

  Tinga,

  Chico-Nazario,

  Velasco, Jr.,

  Nachura,

  Leonardo-De Castro, and

  Brion, JJ.

HON. ZEUS C. ABROGAR,

Presiding Judge of the Regional

Trial Court, Makati City, Branch 150,

PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES           Promulgated:

& PHILIPPINE LONG DISTANCE

TELEPHONE COMPANY,

                             Respondents.                    January 13, 2009

 

x ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- x

 

RESOLUTION

 

YNARES-SANTIAGO, J.:

 

 

          On February 27, 2006, this Court’s First Division rendered judgment in this case as follows:

 

IN LIGHT OF ALL THE FOREGOING, the petition is GRANTED.  The assailed Orders of the Regional Trial Court and the Decision of the Court of Appeals are REVERSED and SET ASIDE.  The Regional Trial Court is directed to issue an order granting the motion of the petitioner to quash the Amended Information.

 

SO ORDERED.[1]

 

By way of brief background, petitioner is one of the accused in Criminal Case No. 99-2425, filed with the Regional Trial Court of Makati City, Branch 150.  The Amended Information charged the accused with theft under Article 308 of the Revised Penal Code, committed as follows:

 

            On or about September 10-19, 1999, or prior thereto in Makati City, and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the accused, conspiring and confederating together and all of them mutually helping and aiding one another, with intent to gain and without the knowledge and consent of the Philippine Long Distance Telephone (PLDT), did then and there willfully, unlawfully and feloniously take, steal and use the international long distance calls belonging to PLDT by conducting International Simple Resale (ISR), which is a method of routing and completing international long distance calls using lines, cables, antenae, and/or air wave frequency which connect directly to the local or domestic exchange facilities of the country where the call is destined, effectively stealing this business from PLDT while using its facilities in the estimated amount of P20,370,651.92 to the damage and prejudice of PLDT, in the said amount.

 

CONTRARY TO LAW.[2]

 

Petitioner filed a “Motion to Quash (with Motion to Defer Arraignment),” on the ground that the factual allegations in the Amended Information do not constitute the felony of theft.  The trial court denied the Motion to Quash the Amended Information, as well petitioner’s subsequent Motion for Reconsideration.

 

Petitioner’s special civil action for certiorari was dismissed by the Court of Appeals.  Thus, petitioner filed the instant petition for review with this Court.

 

In the above-quoted Decision, this Court held that the Amended Information does not contain material allegations charging petitioner with theft of personal property since international long distance calls and the business of providing telecommunication or telephone services are not personal properties under Article 308 of the Revised Penal Code.

 

Respondent Philippine Long Distance Telephone Company (PLDT) filed a Motion for Reconsideration with Motion to Refer the Case to the Supreme Court En Banc.  It maintains that the Amended Information charging petitioner with theft is valid and sufficient; that it states the names of all the accused who were specifically charged with the crime of theft of PLDT’s international calls and business of providing telecommunication or telephone service on or about September 10 to 19, 1999 in Makati City by conducting ISR or International Simple Resale; that it identifies the international calls and business of providing telecommunication or telephone service of PLDT as the personal properties which were unlawfully taken by the accused; and that it satisfies the test of sufficiency as it enabled a person of common understanding to know the charge against him and the court to render judgment properly.

 

PLDT further insists that the Revised Penal Code should be interpreted in the context of the Civil Code’s definition of real and personal property.  The enumeration of real properties in Article 415 of the Civil Code is exclusive such that all those not included therein are personal properties.  Since Article 308 of the Revised Penal Code used the words “personal property” without qualification, it follows that all “personal properties” as understood in the context of the Civil Code, may be the subject of theft under Article 308 of the Revised Penal Code.  PLDT alleges that the international calls and business of providing telecommunication or telephone service are personal properties capable of appropriation and can be objects of theft.

 

PLDT also argues that “taking” in relation to theft under the Revised Penal Code does not require “asportation,” the sole requisite being that the object should be capable of “appropriation.”  The element of “taking” referred to in Article 308 of the Revised Penal Code means the act of depriving another of the possession and dominion of a movable coupled with the intention, at the time of the “taking,” of withholding it with the character of permanency.  There must be intent to appropriate, which means to deprive the lawful owner of the thing.  Thus, the term “personal properties” under Article 308 of the Revised Penal Code is not limited to only personal properties which are “susceptible of being severed from a mass or larger quantity and of being transported from place to place.”

 

PLDT likewise alleges that as early as the 1930s, international telephone calls were in existence; hence, there is no basis for this Court’s finding that the Legislature could not have contemplated the theft of international telephone calls and the unlawful transmission and routing of electronic voice signals or impulses emanating from such calls by unlawfully tampering with the telephone device as within the coverage of the Revised Penal Code.

 

According to respondent, the “international phone calls” which are “electric currents or sets of electric impulses transmitted through a medium, and carry a pattern representing the human voice to a receiver,” are personal properties which may be subject of theft.  Article 416(3) of the Civil Code deems “forces of nature” (which includes electricity) which are brought under the control by science, are personal property.

 

In his Comment to PLDT’s motion for reconsideration, petitioner Laurel claims that a telephone call is a conversation on the phone or a communication carried out using the telephone.  It is not synonymous to electric current or impulses.  Hence, it may not be considered as personal property susceptible of appropriation.  Petitioner claims that the analogy between generated electricity and telephone calls is misplaced.  PLDT does not produce or generate telephone calls.  It only provides the facilities or services for the transmission and switching of the calls.  He also insists that “business” is not personal property.  It is not the “business” that is protected but the “right to carry on a business.”   This right is what is considered as property.  Since the services of PLDT cannot be considered as “property,” the same may not be subject of theft. 

 

The Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) agrees with respondent PLDT that “international phone calls and the business or service of providing international phone calls” are subsumed in the enumeration and definition of personal property under the Civil Code hence, may be proper subjects of theft.  It noted that the cases of United States v. Genato,[3] United States v. Carlos[4] and United States v. Tambunting,[5] which recognized intangible properties like gas and electricity as personal properties, are deemed incorporated in our penal laws.  Moreover, the theft provision in the Revised Penal Code was deliberately couched in broad terms precisely to be all-encompassing and embracing even such scenario that could not have been easily anticipated.

 

According to the OSG, prosecution under Republic Act (RA) No. 8484 or the Access Device Regulations Act of 1998 and RA 8792 or the Electronic Commerce Act of 2000 does not preclude prosecution under the Revised Penal Code for the crime of theft.  The latter embraces unauthorized appropriation or use of PLDT’s international calls, service and business, for personal profit or gain, to the prejudice of PLDT as owner thereof.  On the other hand, the special laws punish the surreptitious and advanced technical means employed to illegally obtain the subject service and business.  Even assuming that the correct indictment should have been under RA 8484, the quashal of the information would still not be proper.  The charge of theft as alleged in the Information should be taken in relation to RA 8484 because it is the elements, and not the designation of the crime, that control.

 

          Considering the gravity and complexity of the novel questions of law involved in this case, the Special First Division resolved to refer the same to the Banc.

 

We resolve to grant the Motion for Reconsideration but remand the case to the trial court for proper clarification of the Amended Information.

 

          Article 308 of the Revised Penal Code provides:

 

            Art. 308.  Who are liable for theft. – Theft is committed by any person who, with intent to gain but without violence against, or intimidation of persons nor force upon things, shall take personal property of another without the latter’s consent.

 

 

The elements of theft under Article 308 of the Revised Penal Code are as follows: (1) that there be taking of personal property; (2) that said property belongs to another; (3) that the taking be done with intent to gain; (4) that the taking be done without the consent of the owner; and (5) that the taking be accomplished without the use of violence against or intimidation of persons or force upon things. 

 

          Prior to the passage of the Revised Penal Code on December 8, 1930, the definition of the term “personal property” in the penal code provision on theft had been established in Philippine jurisprudence.  This Court, in United States v. Genato, United States v. Carlos, and United States v. Tambunting, consistently ruled that any personal property, tangible or intangible, corporeal or incorporeal, capable of appropriation can be the object of theft. 

 

          Moreover, since the passage of the Revised Penal Code on December 8, 1930, the term “personal property” has had a generally accepted definition in civil law.  In Article 335 of the Civil Code of Spain, “personal property” is defined as “anything susceptible of appropriation and not included in the foregoing chapter (not real property).”  Thus, the term “personal property” in the Revised Penal Code should be interpreted in the context of the Civil Code provisions in accordance with the rule on statutory construction that where words have been long used in a technical sense and have been judicially construed to have a certain meaning, and have been adopted by the legislature as having a certain meaning prior to a particular statute, in which they are used, the words used in such statute should be construed according to the sense in which they have been previously used.[6]  In fact, this Court used the Civil Code definition of “personal property” in interpreting the theft provision of the penal code in United States v. Carlos.

 

          Cognizant of the definition given by jurisprudence and the Civil Code of Spain to the term “personal property” at the time the old Penal Code was being revised, still the legislature did not limit or qualify the definition of “personal property” in the Revised Penal Code.  Neither did it provide a restrictive definition or an exclusive enumeration of “personal property” in the Revised Penal Code, thereby showing its intent to retain for the term an extensive and unqualified interpretation.  Consequently, any property which is not included in the enumeration of real properties under the Civil Code and capable of appropriation can be the subject of theft under the Revised Penal Code.

 

          The only requirement for a personal property to be the object of theft under the penal code is that it be capable of appropriation.  It need not be capable of “asportation,” which is defined as “carrying away.”[7]  Jurisprudence is settled that to “take” under the theft provision of the penal code does not require asportation or carrying away.[8]

 

          To appropriate means to deprive the lawful owner of the thing.[9]  The word “take” in the Revised Penal Code includes any act intended to transfer possession which, as held in the assailed Decision, may be committed through the use of the offenders’ own hands, as well as any mechanical device, such as an access device or card as in the instant case.  This includes controlling the destination of the property stolen to deprive the owner of the property, such as the use of a meter tampering, as held in Natividad v. Court of Appeals,[10] use of a device to fraudulently obtain gas, as held in United States v. Tambunting, and the use of a jumper to divert electricity, as held in the cases of United States v. Genato, United States v. Carlos, and United States v. Menagas.[11]

 

 

          As illustrated in the above cases, appropriation of forces of nature which are brought under control by science such as electrical energy can be achieved by tampering with any apparatus used for generating or measuring such forces of nature, wrongfully redirecting such forces of nature from such apparatus, or using any device to fraudulently obtain such forces of nature.  In the instant case, petitioner was charged with engaging in International Simple Resale (ISR) or the unauthorized routing and completing of international long distance calls using lines, cables, antennae, and/or air wave frequency and connecting these calls directly to the local or domestic exchange facilities of the country where destined.

 

          As early as 1910, the Court declared in Genato that ownership over electricity (which an international long distance call consists of), as well as telephone service, is protected by the provisions on theft of the Penal Code.  The pertinent provision of the Revised Ordinance of the City of Manila, which was involved in the said case, reads as follows:

 

            Injury to electric apparatus; Tapping current; Evidence. – No person shall destroy, mutilate, deface, or otherwise injure or tamper with any wire, meter, or other apparatus installed or used for generating, containing, conducting, or measuring electricity, telegraph or telephone service, nor tap or otherwise wrongfully deflect or take any electric current from such wire, meter, or other apparatus.

 

No person shall, for any purpose whatsoever, use or enjoy the benefits of any device by means of which he may fraudulently obtain any current of electricity or any telegraph or telephone service; and the existence in any building premises of any such device shall, in the absence of satisfactory explanation, be deemed sufficient evidence of such use by the persons benefiting thereby.

 

 

          It was further ruled that even without the above ordinance the acts of subtraction punished therein are covered by the provisions on theft of the Penal Code then in force, thus:

 

Even without them (ordinance), the right of the ownership of electric current is secured by articles 517 and 518 of the Penal Code; the application of these articles in cases of subtraction of gas, a fluid used for lighting, and in some respects resembling electricity, is confirmed by the rule laid down in the decisions of the supreme court of Spain of January 20, 1887, and April 1, 1897, construing and enforcing the provisions of articles 530 and 531 of the Penal Code of that country, articles 517 and 518 of the code in force in these islands.

 

          The acts of “subtraction” include: (a) tampering with any wire, meter, or other apparatus installed or used for generating, containing, conducting, or measuring electricity, telegraph or telephone service; (b) tapping or otherwise wrongfully deflecting or taking any electric current from such wire, meter, or other apparatus; and (c) using or enjoying the benefits of any device by means of which one may fraudulently obtain any current of electricity or any telegraph or telephone service.

 

          In the instant case, the act of conducting ISR operations by illegally connecting various equipment or apparatus to private respondent PLDT’s telephone system, through which petitioner is able to resell or re-route international long distance calls using respondent PLDT’s facilities constitutes all three acts of subtraction mentioned above.

 

          The business of providing telecommunication or telephone service is likewise personal property which can be the object of theft under Article 308 of the Revised Penal Code.  Business may be appropriated under Section 2 of Act No. 3952 (Bulk Sales Law), hence, could be object of theft:

 

Section 2.  Any sale, transfer, mortgage, or assignment of a stock of goods, wares, merchandise, provisions, or materials otherwise than in the ordinary course of trade and the regular prosecution of the business of the vendor, mortgagor, transferor, or assignor, or any sale, transfer, mortgage, or assignment of all, or substantially all, of the business or trade theretofore conducted by the vendor, mortgagor, transferor or assignor, or all, or substantially all, of the fixtures and equipment used in and about the business of the vendor, mortgagor, transferor, or assignor, shall be deemed to be a sale and transfer in bulk, in contemplation of the Act. x x x.

 

 

          In Strochecker v. Ramirez,[12] this Court stated:

 

With regard to the nature of the property thus mortgaged which is one-half interest in the business above described, such interest is a personal property capable of appropriation and not included in the enumeration of real properties in article 335 of the Civil Code, and may be the subject of mortgage.

 

 

          Interest in business was not specifically enumerated as personal property in the Civil Code in force at the time the above decision was rendered.  Yet, interest in business was declared to be personal property since it is capable of appropriation and not included in the enumeration of real properties.  Article 414 of the Civil Code provides that all things which are or may be the object of appropriation are considered either real property or personal property.  Business is likewise not enumerated as personal property under the Civil Code.  Just like interest in business, however, it may be appropriated.  Following the ruling in Strochecker v. Ramirez, business should also be classified as personal property.  Since it is not included in the exclusive enumeration of real properties under Article 415, it is therefore personal property.[13]

 

As can be clearly gleaned from the above disquisitions, petitioner’s acts constitute theft of respondent PLDT’s business and service, committed by means of the unlawful use of the latter’s facilities.  In this regard, the Amended Information inaccurately describes the offense by making it appear that what petitioner took were the international long distance telephone calls, rather than respondent PLDT’s business.

 

          A perusal of the records of this case readily reveals that petitioner and respondent PLDT extensively discussed the issue of ownership of telephone calls.  The prosecution has taken the position that said telephone calls belong to respondent PLDT.  This is evident from its Comment where it defined the issue of this case as whether or not “the unauthorized use or appropriation of PLDT international telephone calls, service and facilities, for the purpose of generating personal profit or gain that should have otherwise belonged to PLDT, constitutes theft.”[14]

 

          In discussing the issue of ownership, petitioner and respondent PLDT gave their respective explanations on how a telephone call is generated.[15]  For its part, respondent PLDT explains the process of generating a telephone call as follows:

 

38.       The role of telecommunication companies is not limited to merely providing the medium (i.e. the electric current) through which the human voice/voice signal of the caller is transmitted.  Before the human voice/voice signal can be so transmitted, a telecommunication company, using its facilities, must first break down or decode the human voice/voice signal into electronic impulses and subject the same to further augmentation and enhancements.  Only after such process of conversion will the resulting electronic impulses be transmitted by a telecommunication company, again, through the use of its facilities.  Upon reaching the destination of the call, the telecommunication company will again break down or decode the electronic impulses back to human voice/voice signal before the called party receives the same.  In other words, a telecommunication company both converts/reconverts the human voice/voice signal and provides the medium for transmitting the same.

 

39.       Moreover, in the case of an international telephone call, once the electronic impulses originating from a foreign telecommunication company country (i.e. Japan) reaches the Philippines through a local telecommunication company (i.e. private respondent PLDT), it is the latter which decodes, augments and enhances the electronic impulses back to the human voice/voice signal and provides the medium (i.e. electric current) to enable the called party to receive the call.  Thus, it is not true that the foreign telecommunication company provides (1) the electric current which transmits the human voice/voice signal of the caller and (2) the electric current for the called party to receive said human voice/voice signal.

 

40.       Thus, contrary to petitioner Laurel’s assertion, once the electronic impulses or electric current originating from a foreign telecommunication company (i.e. Japan) reaches private respondent PLDT’s network, it is private respondent PLDT which decodes, augments and enhances the electronic impulses back to the human voice/voice signal and provides the medium (i.e. electric current) to enable the called party to receive the call.  Without private respondent PLDT’s network, the human voice/voice signal of the calling party will never reach the called party.[16]

 

 

          In the assailed Decision, it was conceded that in making the international phone calls, the human voice is converted into electrical impulses or electric current which are transmitted to the party called.  A telephone call, therefore, is electrical energy.  It was also held in the assailed Decision that intangible property such as electrical energy is capable of appropriation because it may be taken and carried away.  Electricity is personal property under Article 416 (3) of the Civil Code, which enumerates “forces of nature which are brought under control by science.”[17]

 

          Indeed, while it may be conceded that “international long distance calls,” the matter alleged to be stolen in the instant case, take the form of electrical energy, it cannot be said that such international long distance calls were personal properties belonging to PLDT since the latter could not have acquired ownership over such calls.  PLDT merely encodes, augments, enhances, decodes and transmits said calls using its complex communications infrastructure and facilities.  PLDT not being the owner of said telephone calls, then it could not validly claim that such telephone calls were taken without its consent.  It is the use of these communications facilities without the consent of PLDT that constitutes the crime of theft, which is the unlawful taking of the telephone services and business.

 

Therefore, the business of providing telecommunication and the telephone service are personal property under Article 308 of the Revised Penal Code, and the act of engaging in ISR is an act of “subtraction” penalized under said article.  However, the Amended Information describes the thing taken as, “international long distance calls,” and only later mentions “stealing the business from PLDT” as the manner by which the gain was derived by the accused.  In order to correct this inaccuracy of description, this case must be remanded to the trial court and the prosecution directed to amend the Amended Information, to clearly state that the property subject of the theft are the services and business of respondent PLDT.  Parenthetically, this amendment is not necessitated by a mistake in charging the proper offense, which would have called for the dismissal of the information under Rule 110, Section 14 and Rule 119, Section 19 of the Revised Rules on Criminal Procedure.  To be sure, the crime is properly designated as one of theft.  The purpose of the amendment is simply to ensure that the accused is fully and sufficiently apprised of the nature and cause of the charge against him, and thus guaranteed of his rights under the Constitution.

 

ACCORDINGLY, the motion for reconsideration is GRANTED.  The assailed Decision dated February 27, 2006 is RECONSIDERED and SET ASIDE.  The Decision of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. SP No. 68841 affirming the Order issued by Judge Zeus C. Abrogar of the Regional Trial Court of Makati City, Branch 150, which denied the Motion to Quash (With Motion to Defer Arraignment) in Criminal Case No. 99-2425 for theft, is AFFIRMED.  The case is remanded to the trial court and the Public Prosecutor of Makati City is hereby DIRECTED to amend the Amended Information to show that the property subject of the theft were services and business of the private offended party.

 

SO ORDERED.

 

 

 

CONSUELO YNARES-SANTIAGO

                                                                 Associate Justice

 

 

WE CONCUR:

 

 

 

REYNATO S. PUNO

Chief Justice

 

 

 

 

LEONARDO A. QUISUMBING                        ANTONIO T. CARPIO

    Associate Justice                                   Associate Justice

 

 

 

 

MA. ALICIA AUSTRIA-MARTINEZ        RENATO C. CORONA

    Associate Justice                                   Associate Justice

 

 

 

         

CONCHITA CARPIO MORALES          ADOLFO S. AZCUNA

     Associate Justice                                Associate Justice

 

 

 

 

             DANTE O. TINGA                   MINITA V. CHICO-NAZARIO

     Associate Justice                                    Associate Justice

 

 

 

 

PRESBITERO J. VELASCO, JR.  ANTONIO EDUARDO B. NACHURA

              Associate Justice                                    Associate Justice   

 

 

 

 

TERESITA J. LEONARDO-DE CASTRO       ARTURO D. BRION

                     Associate Justice                                  Associate Justice

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

CERTIFICATION

 

 

Pursuant to Section 13, Article VIII of the Constitution, it is hereby certified that the conclusions in the above Resolution were reached in consultation before the case was assigned to the writer of the opinion of the Court.

 

 

 

 

REYNATO S. PUNO

        Chief Justice

 

 

 



[1] Rollo, p. 728.

[2] Id. at 57-58.

[3] 15 Phil. 170 (1910).

[4] 21 Phil. 553 (1911).

[5] 41 Phil. 364 (1921).

[6] Krivenko v. Register of Deeds, 79 Phil. 461 (1947).

[7] People v. Mercado, 65 Phil. 665 (1938).

[8] Id.; Duran v. Tan, 85 Phil 476 (1950).

[9] Regalado, Criminal Law Conspectus (2000 ed.), p. 520.

[10] G.R. No. L-14887, January 31, 1961, 1 SCRA 380.

[11] 11 N.E. 2d 403 (1937).

[12] 44 Phil. 933 (1922).

[13] II Tolentino, Commentaries and Jurisprudence on the Civil Code of the Philippines 26 (1992 ed.).

[14] Rollo, p. 902.

[15] Id. at 781-783; 832-837; 872, 874-877.

[16] Id. at 875-877.

[17] Supra note 13.