Republic of the Philippines

Supreme Court

Manila

 

 

THIRD DIVISION

 

 

 

 

RICHARD CHUA,

                           Petitioner,

 

 

 

 

- versus -

 

 

 

 

PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES,

Respondent.

 

G.R. No.  183132

 

Present:

 

VELASCO, JR., J., Chairperson,

PERALTA,

ABAD,

MENDOZA, and

PERLAS-BERNABE, JJ.

 

 

Promulgated:

 

       February 8, 2012

 

X ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------X

 

DECISION

 

MENDOZA, J.:

 

This petition for review on certiorari under Rule 45 seeks to annul and set aside the February 21, 2008 Decision[1] and June 2, 2008 Resolution[2] of the Court of Appeals (CA) in CA-G.R. C.R. No. 29051, modifying the October 6, 2004 Decision[3] of the Regional Trial Court, Branch 132, Makati City (RTC) in Criminal Case No. 21499 entitled People of the Philippines v. Richard Chua, for Estafa thru Falsification of Commercial Document.

 

 

 

The Facts:

 

In 1982, Allied Banking Corporation (the bank) hired Richard Chua as a general clerk in its International Banking Division which processed the opening of domestic and international letters of credit, domestic and international remittances as well as importation and exportation. Specifically, Chua was tasked to process trust receipts, accept trust receipt payments and issue the corresponding receipts for these payments.[4]

 

In response to a complaint of a bank client regarding the non- application of his payments, an internal audit was conducted.  In the course of the audit, twenty-nine (29) fictitious payments backed by equally bogus foreign remittances were discovered. The audit led to a finding that these remittances were not supported by the necessary authenticated advice from the foreign bank concerned. Two of these remittances were with instructions to credit specified amounts to Savings Account No. 1000-209312 which turned out to be under Chua’s name.

 

1. Inward Foreign Remittance Advice of Credit dated 29 October 1984 in the amount of 16,729.96:

 

“Kindly credit & advi[s]e immediately SA# 1000-209312 of R. CHUA representing proceeds of remittance by order of Amado Roque under TT ref. BKT/1752/25 dated 10-26-84.”

 

2.Inward Foreign Remittance Advice of Credit dated 6 August 1984 in the amount of 16,024.70:

 

“Please credit & advi[s]e immediately SA# 1000-209312 of R. Chua representing proceeds of remittance from San Francisco by order of Linda Castro for US$899.75 @ 17.822 less charges.”[5]

 

 

 

Meanwhile, the accounts payable or the excess payments made by two clients of the Bank, ATL Plastic Manufacturing Industries and Unidex Garments, were used to cover up the discrepancy created as a result of the crediting of the foregoing amounts to Chua’s account. It was made to appear that the said amounts were refunded to the same clients although they were not. Debit Tickets were even accomplished to justify the act of crediting the subject amounts to Chua’s account. Afterwards, when the same had been credited to his account, Chua withdrew them on different dates.[6]    

 

On December 17, 1985, Chua was charged with Estafa through Falsification of Commercial Documents before the RTC. The Information reads:

 

That on or about May 18, 1984 and October 24, 1984 and for sometime prior to and subsequent thereto, in the Municipality of Makati, Metro Manila, Philippines and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the above-named accused, by means of deceit and false pretenses executed prior to or simultaneous with the commission of the fraud, did then and there willfully, unlawfully and feloniously defraud Allied Banking Corporation in the following manner, to wit: the said accused, as General Clerk of the said complainant and taking advantage of his position as such,  received from clients of the bank, Unidex Garments and ATL Plastics Manufacturing Industries, the respective sums of P16,024.70 and P16,729.96 for the purpose of applying the same to the payment of the excess indebtedness of said clients with the complainant bank but the accused instead made it appear that said amounts were to be credited to the current account of the client by executing an advice of credit which the said accused, however, did not forward to the Cash Department of the complainant and, instead, he prepared a fictitious inward foreign remittance advice of credit by falsely making it appear therein that there existed dollar remittances of a certain Linda Castro and Amado Roque in the U.S. dollar equivalent of said amounts which the accused credited to his personal account with the bank; and the accused, once in possession of said funds, did then and there willfully, unlawfully and feloniously appropriate  and convert the same to his own personal use and benefit, to the damage and prejudice of the complainant, Allied Banking Corporation, in the total amount of P32,754.66.[7]

 

 

Records show that the case was ordered archived on March 31, 1986 when Chua evaded arrest after the court’s issuance of an arrest warrant. He was finally arrested on September 10, 1999, after 13 years, but was released on bail the following day. When arraigned, Chua entered a plea of not guilty.[8]  

 

For his defense, Chua denied that he prepared the subject Debit Tickets. He insisted on their regularity as these were duly signed and approved by two of his immediate supervisors. Chua likewise denied having prepared the Advice of Credit documents that covered the questioned foreign remittances. He pointed out that these documents were likewise approved for final processing by his supervisors. Finally, he denied having prepared the withdrawal slips, much more, the cash withdrawals corresponding to the subject amounts.[9]

 

In the assailed decision dated October 6, 2004, the RTC found Chua guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the crime of estafa through falsification of commercial documents and was sentenced accordingly.[10]

 

On appeal, the CA modified the RTC’s judgment of conviction by holding Chua liable for falsification of commercial documents only. The CA reasoned out that Chua, being a mere general clerk of the bank, did not acquire both material and juridical possession of the subject amounts. He was likened to a bank teller “whose possession over the money received by him is possession by the bank itself.”[11] Be that as it may, the CA, still under the same indictment/information and pursuant to this Court’s ruling in Gonzaludo v. People,[12] held Chua liable for falsification of commercial documents as defined in Articles 172 and 171 of the Revised Penal Code.[13]

          The CA wrote:

 

In the case at bench, the prosecution was able to prove that the subject Inward Foreign Remittance Advices of Credit which were used to transfer the excess payments made by ATL Plastic Manufacturing Industries and Unidex Garments to the appellant’s account in the guise of remittances, were fictitious since there were really no Linda Castro or Amado Roque who sent the same. It adduced two documents, i.e., the Advices of Credit and the Debit Tickets, which were merely used to cover up the fictitious remittances. It is true that there is no direct proof that appellant was the author of the falsification. However, since he benefited from the fictitious transactions in question, the inevitable conclusion is that he falsified them. It is an established rule that when it is proved that a person has in his possession a falsified document and makes use of the same, the presumption or inference is justified that such person is the forger. On this score, the prosecution convincingly demonstrated that appellant withdrew the subject amounts on different dates.[14]

 

Chua’s defense of forgery failed to impress the CA. As it was his burden to establish his defense, it was not enough for him to submit just any specimen of his signature. The NBI requested him to submit additional documents containing his signatures for the years 1983 and 1984 but he failed to meet its requirements. Thus, the CA gave no value to his defense.  The dispositive portion of its February 21, 2008 Decision reads:

 

WHEREFORE, the Decision dated 6 October 2004 of the Regional Trial Court, Makati City, Branch 132, is MODIFIED. Appellant RICHARD CHUA is hereby ACQUITTED of the complex crime of Estafa through Falsification of Commercial Documents. However, he is adjudged GUILTY of the crime of Falsification of Commercial Documents and is SENTENCED to suffer an indeterminate penalty of 4 months and 1 day of arresto mayor, as minimum, to 2 years and 4 months of prision correccional, as maximum. Likewise, he is ORDERED to PAY a fine of P5,000.00.

 

No Costs.

 

SO ORDERED.[15]

 

Chua sought partial reconsideration but his motion was denied by the CA on June 2, 2008. Still not satisfied, Chua now comes to this Court raising the following

 

ISSUES:

 

I

 

Whether or not the Honorable Court of Appeals erred in finding the petitioner guilty of the crime of Falsification of Commercial Documents considering that it has categorically ADMITTED that there is no direct proof that petitioner was the author of the falsification in the case at bar.

 

II

 

Whether or not the Honorable Court of Appeals erred in not applying the paramount constitutional presumption of innocence in favor of the petitioner in view of its explicit admission that there is no direct proof that the petitioner was the author of the falsification.[16]

 

The Court finds no merit in the petition.

 

 Chua claims that the CA’s statement, “It is true that there is no direct proof that appellant was the author of the falsification,”[17] absolves him from criminal liability even for the lesser offense of falsification of commercial documents. According to Chua, the CA was merely speculating when it held that he was the author of the falsified commercial documents because he allegedly benefited from them. He further argues that the prosecution “failed to show other facts and circumstances from which it may be reasonably and logically inferred that he committed the crime of falsification.”[18]

 

Chua is obviously clutching at straws when he argues that the CA’s judgment of conviction was based merely on speculation. He apparently misread the CA decision. First of all, the CA never abandoned or set aside the factual findings of the RTC when it ordered the modification of the judgment of conviction. The modification was merely on the RTC’s conclusion as to the crime actually committed. In its appealed decision, the CA pointed out that an essential element in the complex crime of estafa through falsification of commercial documents was lacking, thus:

 

Evidently, in the case at bench, appellant did not acquire juridical possession over the subject payments which were made by two of Allied Bank’s clients, i.e., Unidex Garments and ATL Plastic Manufacturing Industries. It must be borne in mind that appellant is a mere general clerk of Allied Bank. As part of his duties, he received payments from clients. His position therefor may be likened to the position of a bank teller whose possession over the money received by him is possession by the bank itself.[19] 

 

 The CA never disturbed, categorically or otherwise, the RTC’s factual findings with regard to (a) the discovery of fictitious payments purportedly from equally fictitious foreign remittances; (b) the fictitious debit or refund to the bank’s clients although in truth there were none as indicated in the bank’s History of Daily Transactions, and was instead credited to the account of Chua; (c) authenticity of his signature in the withdrawal slips as testified to by the bank’s signature verifier; (d) his denial that he ever knew the two persons named above who allegedly remitted the subject amount to him; (e) his own admission on cross examination that the subject amounts were indeed credited to his savings account with the bank; and (f) his admission that after the subject incident with the bank, he filed a notice of leave and never came back.[20]  

 

The absence of a direct proof that Chua was the author of the falsification is of no moment for the rule remains that whenever someone has in his possession falsified documents and “uttered” or used the same for his advantage and benefit, the presumption that he authored it arises.

 

 

 

X x x. This is especially true if the use or uttering of the forged documents was so closely connected in time with the forgery that the user or possessor may be proven to have the capacity of committing the forgery, or to have close connection with the forgers, and therefore, had complicity in the forgery.

 

  In the absence of a satisfactory explanation, one who is found in possession of a forged document and who used or uttered it is presumed to be the forger.[21]

 

Certainly, the channeling of the subject payments via false remittances to his savings account, his subsequent withdrawals of said amount as well as his unexplained flight at the height of the bank’s inquiry into the matter more than sufficiently establish Chua’s involvement in the falsification.

 

The evidentiary bases of the RTC were the very same bases relied upon by the CA when it instead found Chua guilty beyond reasonable doubt of falsification of commercial documents. The facts are the same. The elements of the crime as found in paragraph 1, Article 172 of the RPC, are: “1) the offender is a private individual or a public officer or employee who did not take advantage of his official position; 2) the offender committed any of the acts of falsification enumerated in Article 171; and 3) the falsification was committed in a public or official or commercial document.”[22]

 

Applying this to the present case, all three elements are undeniably present – (i) Chua is a private individual; (ii) he used fictitious “inward foreign remittance advice of credit” to cause the funneling or transfer of the two named bank clients’ payments into his own account,[23] squarely falling under paragraph 2 of Article 171 of the Revised Penal Code[24]; and (iii) the falsification was committed in two commercial documents, namely, “inward foreign remittance advice of credit” and the “debit tickets.”[25] Without doubt, his subsequent conviction to a lesser crime was not unfounded.  

 

A conviction coming from the heels of an acquittal in a complex or a more serious crime is nothing new. The CA was merely following the Court’s lead in the case of Gonzaludo v. People,[26] where it was held:

 

The lack of criminal liability for estafa, however, will not necessarily absolve petitioner from criminal liability arising from the charge of falsification of public document under the same Information charging the complex crime of estafa through falsification of public document. It is settled doctrine that –

 

“When a complex crime has been charged in an information and the evidence fails to support the charge on one of the component offenses, can defendant still be separately convicted of the other offense? The question has long been answered in the affirmative. In United States v. Lahoylahoy and Madanlog,[27] the Court has ruled to be legally feasible the conviction of an accused on one of the offenses included in a complex crime charged, when properly established, despite the failure of evidence to hold the accused of the other charge.”[28](previous citations omitted) 

 

WHEREFORE, the petition is DENIED. The February 21, 2008 Decision and June 2, 2008 Resolution of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. CR No. 29051 are AFFIRMED.

 

SO ORDERED.

 

 

 

                                                                JOSE CATRAL MENDOZA

                                                                              Associate Justice

 

 

WE CONCUR:

 

 

 

 

 

PRESBITERO J. VELASCO, JR.

Associate Justice

Chairperson

 

 

 

 

DIOSDADO M. PERALTA                     ROBERTO A. ABAD

            Associate Justice                                             Associate Justice

 

 

 

 

ESTELA M. PERLAS-BERNABE

Associate Justice    

 

 

A T T E S T A T I O N

 

I attest that the conclusions in the above Decision had been reached in consultation before the case was assigned to the writer of the opinion of the Court’s Division.

 

 

 

          PRESBITERO J. VELASCO, JR.

                         Associate Justice

                                                                 Chairperson, Third Division

 

C E R T I F I C A T I O N

 

Pursuant to Section 13, Article VIII of the Constitution and the Division Chairperson’s Attestation, I certify that the conclusions in the above Decision had been reached in consultation before the case was assigned to the writer of the opinion of the Court’s Division.

 

 

 

                                                                      RENATO C. CORONA

                                                                               Chief Justice



[1] Rollo, pp. 9-20.  Penned by Justice Japar B. Dimaampao with Associate Justice Mario L. Guarińa III and Associate Justice Sixto C. Marella, Jr., concurring.

[2] Id. at 23-24.

[3] Id. at 45-51.

[4] Id. at 11.

[5] Id. at 12.

[6] Id. at 12.

[7] Id. at 10.

[8]   Id. at 10-11

[9]   Id. at 13.

[10] Id. at 10.

[11] Id. at 16.

[12] 517 Phil. 110 (2006).

[13] Rollo, pp. 17-18.

[14] Id. at 19.

[15] Id. at 20.

[16] Id. at 35 and 112.

[17] Id. at 113.

[18] Id. at 115.

[19] Id. at 62.

[20] Id. at 122-123.

[21] Serrano v. CA, 452 Phil. 801, 819-820 (2003).

[22] Guillergan v. People, G.R. No. 185493, February 2, 2011, 641 SCRA 511, 516.

[23] Rollo, pp. 136-137.

[24] Art. 171. Falsification by public officer, employee, or notary or ecclesiastical minister. – x x x.

1.       x x x.

2.       Causing it to appear that persons have participated in any act or proceeding when they did not in fact so participate;

3.       x x x.

[25] Rollo, p. 137.

[26] Supra note 12.  

[27] 38 Phil. 330 (1918).

[28] Gonzaludo v. People, supra note 12 at 580.