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The private complainant, Flordeliza Uy, is allegedly the owner of “Ebot’s Farm”, a farm engaged in the chicken grower business. The petitioner, Lucia Manuel, is a long-time customer of Ebot’s farm. She would call in the morning to the farm and talk to Nemesio Artates, the booker for Ebot’s Farm. After that, Lucia Manuel would instruct her husband, Rolando, or her nephew, Arnel, to pick up the chickens in the evening and deliver the corresponding check payments. 

This case involves a series of transactions made in November 2005, for which Lucia Manuel issued 10 PNB checks in favor of Flordeliza Uy, the aggregate amount of which is P889,606.00. When the checks were presented for payment to the bank, the same were dishonored for the reason of “Account Closed.” Several demand letters were sent to Lucia Manuel, all of which were left unheeded.

This prompted Flordeliza Uy to file a case against Lucia Manuel for B.P. 22 and Estafa under Art. 315(2)(d) of the Revised Penal Code.

The defense argued that the said farm was actually owned by a certain Alex Uson, and not Flordeliza Uy. Contrary to Uy’s claims, what Lucia Manuel would actually do is issue blank checks and only fill out the date and signature. This leaves out the name of the payee and amount. Then, her husband or nephew would pick-up the chickens and deliver the blank checks as guarantee for the payment of the obligation.

She denied having transacted with Flordeliza Uy, and she likewise did not know why the checks were made payable to her since only transacted with Nemesio Artates, the booker of the said farm.

Lucia Manuel admitted that she was aware that the checks would not be funded on time, which is why she would then ask Alex Uson not to present the checks for encashment and to renegotiate payment for her orders of live chicken.

She further argued that she did not defraud Flordeliza Uy as she never transacted with her. Instead, she transacted with Alex Uson. She likewise pointed out that Flordeliza Uy never even attended the proceedings before the RTC.

Decision of the RTC and the CA:

The RTC convicted the petitioner of the crime of Estafa under Art. 315 (2)(d) of the RPC. The CA affirmed the conviction of the petitioner. The CA held that all the elements of the crime were established by the prosecution.

FIRST. Lucia Manuel made several purchases of live chickens from the farm, and to serve as

payment thereof, she issued the subject postdated checks. Without these, Flordeliza Uy would not have parted with the chickens since these were assurances of payment.

SECOND. One of the prosecution’s witnesses testified that the checking account was already closed when the subject checks were negotiated. In fact, she knew that she would not be able to pay the amounts corresponding thereof because she did not have sufficient funds.

THIRD. Private complainant Flordeliza Uy was damaged to the extent of the value of the subject checks which represented the total value of the goods taken by Lucia Manuel from her.

In a bid to exculpate herself from any liability, appellant maintains that the prosecution’s failure to present as witness private complainant Flordeliza deprived her of the right to confront the former. Therefore, such failure resulted in the prosecution’s inability to prove the indispensable element of deceit.

In this case, records reflect that the elements of the crime of estafa could very well be proven and in fact had been established by the other prosecution witnesses who dealt directly with appellant. The testimony of private complainant Flordeliza would only be corroborative and therefore her non-presentation as a witness is not fatal to the prosecution’s case.

Proceedings Before the Supreme Court:

Petitioner retained the same arguments during her appeal.

Curiously, the Petitioner filed before the Supreme Court a Reply with Motion to Admit praying that the SC grant their motion and admit into the records, among others, an Affidavit of Desistance executed by Flordeliza Uy. Likewise attached to the Reply is a copy of the Order issued by the MTC of San Rafael, Bulacan in the criminal case for violation of B.P. Blg. 22, which dismissed the case against the petitioner.

The OSG filed its Comment arguing that the Affidavit of Desistance and the testimony of Uy in the B.P. Blg. 22 cases should not be admitted in the instant case considering that they were made and introduced in a different proceeding.

Ruling of the Supreme Court:

The Petitioner was ACQUITTED by the Supreme Court.

As a general rule, only questions of law may be raised in a petition for review on certiorari under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court. Nevertheless, the foregoing rule admits certain exceptions.

The lower court’s actual findings will not bind the Supreme Court if facts that could affect the result of the case were overlooked and disregarded.

The SC was convinced that the totality of the evidence presented by the prosecution casts reasonable doubt as to the guilt of the petitioner for the crime of Estafa under Article 315, paragraph 2(d) of the RPC.

On the Affidavit of Desistance

Generally, Courts view affidavits of desistance or recantation, if executed after conviction of the accused, with disfavor, suspicion and reservation. This is because these can easily be secured from poor and ignorant witnesses usually through intimidation or for monetary consideration.

Thus, it has been held that an affidavit of desistance is merely an additional ground to buttress the accused’s defenses, not the sole consideration that can result in acquittal.

However, under special and exceptional circumstances, an affidavit of desistance coupled with an express repudiation of the material points alleged in the Information, may engender doubts as to the truth of the testimony given by the witnesses at the trial and accepted by the judge.

The SC said that the effects and Uy’s Affidavit of Desistance, considering that if coupled with her testimony during the hearing for the affidavit’s admission, her non-presentation during trial, and her express repudiation of the material points in the Information, engender serious doubts as to petitioner’s liability.

Clear from Uy’s Affidavit of Desistance is an express repudiation of the existence of any demandable obligation in relation to the subject PNB checks which petitioner issued. Uy’s desistance was evidently not borne out merely by loss of interest or lack of intent to pursue the criminal charges against petitioner but an admission of the lack of legal and factual basis to institute the criminal charges.

The foregoing testimony of Uy is an explicit and unequivocal admission that she had no transactions with the petitioner, which is a complete contradiction with the testimony of the prosecution’s witness. It, thus, raises the question as to what contracted obligation were the subject PNB checks issued for and how Uy would have been defrauded if she had no transactions with petitioner to begin with.

In addition, Uy admits that she is not familiar with Ebot’s farm – the farm which the prosecution alleged to be owned by Uy and from which petitioner Lucia ordered the live chickens.

The prosecution’s witness testified that the subject PNB checks were issued by petitioner in connection with her orders of live chickens with Ebot’s farm. According to the prosecution, Ebot’s farm was owned by Uy, thus the subject PNB checks were issued in her name. However, the foregoing testimony of Uy is a manifest and complete contradiction of the evidence presented by the prosecution, which now casts doubt as to the truthfulness and veracity of the testimony of the prosecution’s witness.

Petitioner had repeatedly raised the failure of the prosecution to present Uy as a witness and pointed out that she was never present in any of the hearings before the RTC. Indeed, the prosecution is imbued with the discretion to choose who to present as witnesses.

However, considering that petitioner during trial denied having issued the checks in the name of Uy and given that prosecution’s witness testified that the name of the payee and the amount of the subject PNB checks appear to have been entered by a different person, it was thus, incumbent upon the prosecution to present countervailing evidence.

The prosecution could have easily presented Uy to prove that petitioner defrauded her and which resulted in damage or injury to her as the payee of the subject PNB checks. This, the prosecution failed to do.

On Reasonable Doubt

In the instant case, the SC found that the prosecution failed to prove the elements of deceit and damage.

The prosecution’s witness, Artates, an employee of Ebot’s farm, testified that the farm was owned by Uy. This, however, was evidently refuted when Uy herself admitted that she is not familiar with Ebot’s farm. The conflicting testimony of the prosecution witness and the statements made by Uy herself renders the existence of the underlying transaction highly dubious and suspect.

Accordingly, in the absence of proof beyond reasonable doubt that an obligation was contracted for which the PNB checks were issued, the elements of deceit and damage could not be established.

On Civil Liability

As a general rule, the acquittal of the accused does not automatically preclude a judgment against him on the civil aspect of the case. The extinction of the penal action does not carry with it the extinction of the civil liability where: (a) the acquittal is based on reasonable doubt as only preponderance of evidence is required; (b) the court declares that the liability of the accused is only civil; and (c) the civil liability of the accused does not arise from or is not based upon the crime of which the accused is acquitted.

However, the civil action based on delict may be deemed extinguished if there is a finding on the final judgment in the criminal action that the act or omission from which the civil liability may arise did not exist or where the accused did not commit the acts or omission imputed to him.

In the present case, private complainant Uy herself testified during the clarificatory hearing on her affidavit of desistance that she had no existing transactions with petitioner. Thus, from the very admission of private complainant Uy, the alleged obligation contracted for which the PNB checks were issued did not exist. Accordingly, petitioner’s civil liability ex delicto is deemed extinguished.

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