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Bigger loot, longer jail time for swindlers in Philippines

Publication Date : 08-05-2014


The Supreme Court of the Philippines has upheld the validity of a provision in the Revised Penal Code (RPC) that imposed longer jail terms on convicted swindlers if the amount involved in their cases exceeded 22,000 pesos (US$497.50).

Voting 8-5, the high tribunal decided to apply the penal provision, saying it was not cruel.

Under Article 315 of the RPC, convicted swindlers shall be imprisoned for six to eight years if the amount involved exceeded 22,000 pesos. But for every 10,000 pesos defrauded in excess of 22,000 pesos, an additional year will be added to the convict’s jail term but in no case should the total penalty imposed exceed 20 years.

However, since the RPC was enacted by the legislature in 1932 and was pegged to the value of the money and property at that time, a question arose on how the Philippine courts should apply the penalty.

The Supreme Court held oral arguments on the matter last February using the case of Lito Cruz, whom a Pampanga court found guilty of estafa in 2004 and sentenced to four to eight years in prison for failing to remit the proceeds of 98,000 pesos worth of jewelry that a business partner asked him to sell.

The high court upheld in 2007 a ruling of the Court of Appeals that approved the conviction but added eight years prison terms on his sentence based on Article 315 of the RPC.

Some justices wanted the RPC rates adjusted to 1:100 or based on the inflation rate but the majority said this would be tantamount to judicial legislation, adding that other offenses penalised by the RPC and other laws enacted for the past 80 years, where the fines and prison terms were dependent on the amounts involved, might also have to be revised.

“It must be remembered that the economy fluctuates and if the proposed imposition of the penalties in crimes against property be adopted, the penalties will not cease to change, thus, making the RPC, a self-amending law. Had the framers of the RPC intended that to be so, it should have provided the same,” the justices said in a 32-page ruling written by Justice Diosdado Peralta.

Although the additional penalty imposed by Article 315 seemed harsh, the justices said it did not violate the prohibition of cruel and unusual punishments, the concept of which pertains to the “form or character” of the punishment rather than its severity in respect of duration or amount.

The majority said it should be left to the legislature to make revisions in the RPC and adapt it to modern times.

“[T]he court should give Congress a chance to perform its primordial duty of lawmaking. The court should not pre-empt Congress and usurp its inherent powers of making and enacting laws. While it may be the most expeditious approach, a shortcut by judicial fiat is a dangerous proposition, lest the court dare trespass on prohibited judicial legislation,” they added.


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