Monday, October 27, 2008

Case Digest: Lozano v. Martinez

G.R. No. L-63419, December 18, 1986
FLORENTINA A. LOZANO, petitioner, vs. THE HONORABLE ANTONIO M. MARTINEZ, in his capacity as Presiding Judge, Regional Trial Court, National Capital Judicial Region, Branch XX, Manila, and the HONORABLE JOSE B. FLAMINIANO, in his capacity as City Fiscal of Manila, respondents.

Petitioners, charged with Batas Pambansa Bilang 22 (BP 22 for short), popularly known as the Bouncing Check Law, assail the law's constitutionality.

BP 22 punishes a person "who makes or draws and issues any check on account or for value, knowing at the time of issue that he does not have sufficient funds in or credit with the drawee bank for the payment of said check in full upon presentment, which check is subsequently dishonored by the drawee bank for insufficiency of funds or credit or would have been dishonored for the same reason had not the drawer, without any valid reason, ordered the bank to stop payment." The penalty prescribed for the offense is imprisonment of not less than 30 days nor more than one year or a fine or not less than the amount of the check nor more than double said amount, but in no case to exceed P200,000.00, or both such fine and imprisonment at the discretion of the court.

The statute likewise imposes the same penalty on "any person who, having sufficient funds in or credit with the drawee bank when he makes or draws and issues a check, shall fail to keep sufficient funds or to maintain a credit to cover the full amount of the check if presented within a period of ninety (90) days from the date appearing thereon, for which reason it is dishonored by the drawee bank.

An essential element of the offense is "knowledge" on the part of the maker or drawer of the check of the insufficiency of his funds in or credit with the bank to cover the check upon its presentment. Since this involves a state of mind difficult to establish, the statute itself creates a prima facie presumption of such knowledge where payment of the check "is refused by the drawee because of insufficient funds in or credit with such bank when presented within ninety (90) days from the date of the check. To mitigate the harshness of the law in its application, the statute provides that such presumption shall not arise if within five (5) banking days from receipt of the notice of dishonor, the maker or drawer makes arrangements for payment of the check by the bank or pays the holder the amount of the check.

Another provision of the statute, also in the nature of a rule of evidence, provides that the introduction in evidence of the unpaid and dishonored check with the drawee bank's refusal to pay "stamped or written thereon or attached thereto, giving the reason therefor, "shall constitute prima facie proof of "the making or issuance of said check, and the due presentment to the drawee for payment and the dishonor thereof ... for the reason written, stamped or attached by the drawee on such dishonored check."

The presumptions being merely prima facie, it is open to the accused of course to present proof to the contrary to overcome the said presumptions.

ISSUE: Whether or not (W/N) BP 22 violates the constitutional provision forbidding imprisonment for debt.

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 the law. The law punishes the act not as an offense against property, but an offense against public order.

The effects of the issuance of a worthless check transcends the private interests of the parties directly involved in the transaction and touches the interests of the community at large. The mischief it creates is not only a wrong to the payee or holder, but also an injury to the public. The harmful practice of putting valueless commercial papers in circulation, multiplied a thousand fold, can very wen pollute the channels of trade and commerce, injure the banking system and eventually hurt the welfare of society and the public interest.

The enactment of BP 22 is a declaration by the legislature that, as a matter of public policy, the making and issuance of a worthless check is deemed public nuisance to be abated by the imposition of penal sanctions.

ISSUE: W/N BP 22 impairs the freedom to contract.
HELD: No. The freedom of contract which is constitutionally protected is freedom to enter into "lawful" contracts. Contracts which contravene public policy are not lawful. Besides, we must bear in mind that checks can not be categorized as mere contracts. It is a commercial instrument which, in this modem day and age, has become a convenient substitute for money; it forms part of the banking system and therefore not entirely free from the regulatory power of the state.

ISSUE: W/N it violates the equal protection clause.
HELD: No. Petitioners contend that the payee is just as responsible for the crime as the drawer of the check, since without the indispensable participation of the payee by his acceptance of the check there would be no crime. This argument is tantamount to saying that, to give equal protection, the law should punish both the swindler and the swindled. Moreover, the clause does not preclude classification of individuals, who may be accorded different treatment under the law as long as the classification is no unreasonable or arbitrary.

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