Walang nakukulong dahil sa utang!
This is a very popular phrase among Filipinos. But is it true? Before proceeding, may I just remind our readers that I have a radio program entitled “Punot Legal” at DZWT 540 on its new time slot at 7:15-8:15 in the morning every Saturday. Debt almost always destroys relationships. Many friends have now become bitter enemies because one borrowed money from the other and the borrower has not yet paid the indebtedness. I always advise my listeners and clients not to borrow money from a friend because it can ruin their relationship. There are many financial institutions like cooperatives and banks that can lend money so borrow from them instead. So what does our laws say with regard to non-payment of debt?
Sec. 20, Article III, 1987 Constitution
“No person shall be imprisoned for debt or non-payment of a poll tax”. This provision is enshrined in our Constitution as one of the Rights of an individual. This provision prohibits the enactment of a law criminalizing non-payment of debt or poll tax. In the 1935 case of People vs. Linsangan (G.R. No. L-43290, December 21, 1935) the conviction of the accused was overturned by the Supreme Court. Linsangan was charged and convicted in the lower court for his failure to pay his cedula or poll tax which was punishable under the Revised Administrative Code (pre-1935 Constitution) by imprisonment of 5 days for each unpaid cedula. The Supreme Court decided in favor of the accused and declared that the new Constitution (1935) expressly prohibits the imprisonment for non-payment of poll tax applies to him. With the inauguration of the new government and the newly approved constitution “section 2718 of the Revised Administrative Code became inoperative, and no judgment of conviction can be based thereon.” This is a very old case and there have been several constitutions containing the prohibition against imprisonment for non-payment of debt and poll tax but a 1996 administrative case against a presiding judge revived this supposedly well settled issue.
Ignorance of the Law
Judge “X” was ordered to pay Php 5,000.00 as penalty after he was found guilty by the Supreme Court of ignorance of the law. The administrative complaint arose out of his action in relation to a case raffled in his sala. He issued a warrant of arrest against the defendant in a case where the complaint alleges that the defendant owes a certain amount of money from the complainant. The judge claimed that the elements of estafa were alleged in the complaint which justified the issuance of a warrant of arrest. The Supreme Court lambasted the judge although civilly saying that the allegations in the “complaints are clear enough even to an average law student that the acts of Eleazabille Josep complained of do not constitute estafa since they involve a simple case of non-payment of debt.”(A.M. No. MTJ-96-1096. September 10, 1996) It would then appear that the judge issued a warrant of arrest in a civil case of collection of an indebtedness which the 1987 Constitution expressly prohibits.
The prohibition for imprisonment is only for debt and non-payment of poll tax and a person can still be imprisoned if fraud is involved or the provisions of B.P. 22 are violated. If the debtor issues checks in violation of BP 22 for the payment of the indebtedness, he can still be imprisoned under said law. Also, poll tax does not include Internal Revenue and other taxes, meaning a taxpayer who defaults in the payment of his taxes can still be prosecuted and jailed.