No One can be Imprisoned for Non-Payment of Debt

Perhaps you’ve heard someone making threats to file criminal cases against debtors who fail to pay. Yet you’ve heard the statement that no one can be imprisoned simply because of a debt. This is a basic principle and we thought we already have a discussion on this topic. We indeed have such discussion but we forgot to post it here. So here goes.

The prohibition against imprisonment for a debt is a basic right enshrined in no less than the Constitution (Article III):

No person shall be imprisoned for debt or non-payment of a poll tax.

The rationale for this prohibition is explained in the case of Lozano vs. Martinez, thus:

. . . Viewed in its historical context, the constitutional prohibition against imprisonment for debt is a safeguard that evolved gradually during the early part of the nineteenth century in the various states of the American Union as a result of the people’s revulsion at the cruel and inhumane practice, sanctioned by common law, which permitted creditors to cause the incarceration of debtors who could not pay their debts. At common law, money judgments arising from actions for the recovery of a debt or for damages from breach of a contract could be enforced against the person or body of the debtor by writ of capias ad satisfaciendum. By means of this writ, a debtor could be seized and imprisoned at the instance of the creditor until he makes the satisfaction awarded. As a consequence of the popular ground swell against such a barbarous practice, provisions forbidding imprisonment for debt came to be generally enshrined in the constitutions of various states of the Union.

This humanitarian provision was transported to our shores by the Americans at the turn of the century and embodied in our organic laws. Later, our fundamental law outlawed not only imprisonment for debt, but also the infamous practice, native to our shore, of throwing people in jail for non-payment of the cedula or poll tax.

In other words, no one could be compelled to pay a debt under pain of criminal sanctions (estafa is a different matter). No one could also substitute the payment of debt through imprisonment or other criminal penalties (subsidiary imprisonment is also another matter).

Let’s examine some laws that were questioned, albeit unsuccessfully, on the ground that these laws violate the constitutional prohibition against non-imprisonment for debt.

Bouncing checks. Certain laws, including Bouncing Checks Law (BP 22),  have been questioned as a violation of this right. However, it’s not the non-payment of an obligation which this law punishes. The law isn’t 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. Checks have become widely accepted as a medium of payment in trade and commerce, and if the confidence in checks is shaken,  the usefulness of checks as currency substitutes would be greatly diminished. When the question was resolved in 1986, it had been reported that the approximate value of bouncing checks per day was close to 200 Million Pesos, thereafter averaging between P50 to P80 Million a day. (Lozano vs. Martinez)

Trust receipts. The same argument was raised against the Trust Receipts Law (PD 115), which is a declaration by the legislative authority that, as a matter of public policy, the failure of a person to turn over the proceeds of the sale of goods covered by a trust receipt or to return said goods if not sold is a public nuisance to be abated by the imposition of penal sanctions. It punishes the dishonesty and abuse of confidence in the handling of money or goods to the prejudice of another. The law does not seek to enforce payment of a loan. (Tiomico vs. CA)

Credit cards. Under the Access Devices Regulation Act of 1998 (RA. 8484), anyone who obtains “money or anything of value through the use of an access device, with intent to defraud or with intent to gain and fleeing thereafter” is criminally liable, punishable with a fine and imprisonment. That law also provides that a cardholder who abandons or surreptitiously leaves the place of employment, business or residence stated in his application or credit card, without informing the credit card company of the place where he could actually be found, if at the time of such abandonment or surreptitious leaving, the outstanding and unpaid balance is past due for at least 90 days and is more than P10,000.00, shall be prima facie presumed to have used his credit card with intent to defraud.” We are still waiting for the test case on this.

307 thoughts on “No One can be Imprisoned for Non-Payment of Debt

  1. Henry

    pano po ba ang dapat ko gawin meron kasi ako kilala nag papautang. dahil kilala at kapit bahay naman eh sinabi ko na pahihiramin ko saya kapalit ng 7% na tubo monthly. in short nag finance ako sa kanya. ok naman ilang buwan pero ngaun bwan hindi na sya maka bayad kaya sabi ko eh pull out ko na ang pera. hidni naya mo mabigyan or hindi masoli ang pera ko dahil hindi daw nag babayad mga pinautang nya. hindi ko po kilala mga pina utang nya ang sabi ko po sa kanya ay sya lang ang kausap ko. kaya labas na ko doon. dapat bayaran nya ako. nag gawa kame ng kasulatan na bayaran nya ok naman sa kanya pumirma sya. dapat po ba ipa notaryo ko ung ginawa namin kasulatan? ung video ng usapan namin ang pwede po ba maging ibidensya laban sa kanya dahil nangako sya na mag babayad sya lahat ng usapan namin ay naka record. ang sabi ko sa kanya pag di sya naka bayad sa araw ng pinag usapan ay mapapahiya sa sa mga kapit bahay. ang sagot nya ay hindi sya mag babayad pag napahiya sya dahil hindi daw mababyaran ng pera ang kahihiyan, nasa batas po ba ung ganon?

    Reply
  2. Danilo

    Dear Sir,

    May tanong lang po ako nandito ako sa UAE ngayon at nagkaroon ako nang loan sa isang lending institution.Hindi ako nakapagbayad on time dahil sa nawalan din ako nang trabaho hanggang sa umabot na pinakulong nila ako at nakapagbayad ako nang 7000 plus UAE Derham as penalty.

    Ngayon nakatanggap na naman ako nang email galing sa pilipinas na kung hindi ako magbayad kakasohan nila ako at ipa blacklist ako sa lahat nang Gulf Conutries,please advise kung pwede ba silang magkaso sa akin sa pilipinas hence na cleared ko na to dito sa UAE at meron na akong clearance.

    Maraming salamat,

    Reply
  3. lanie

    Hi! Paano po kaya due ko po sa avon un pong ibang items po di nabayaran tapos po. ,ung iba po di na kinuha ng buyer tapps yung ibang nbayad sa akin nung ibabayad ko na po nanakawan nman ako sa bus.bale umaabot ng 15 k n ngayon kasi meron pong penalty nagkataom pp na nag kasakit din ako ginamit ko pa pp nman ang passpprt ko aa id ano po kya ang mamgyari. 2nd po yung ex husband ko po na nsa abroad nagppdala po ng monthly allowance until year 2013 nun pong 2011 biglla po akong ponadalhan ng credit card ng bank sabi niya gamitin ko daw until 2013 jan nkakabayad po ako. Ngayon dahil nag aaral pa ang bunso ko meron po kaming mga binili na mhal na items umabot po ng 40k in 1 year dahil po meron p akong ipon nun binabayaran ko lamg po yung minimum payment eh bigla pong di na sya nagpadala as in nawala na po sya.Ano po kaya ang legal implications nitio. Paano po kya. Na stroke po kasi ako kya di na po ako mkawork. Sana po meron mkapag bigay ng advuce.Salamat po

    Reply
  4. Maria

    Hi po pwde po makahingi ng legal advice, nkapagloan po kc ako sa hong kong, 5 months na po nababayaran ko, ei ngaun po dto na po ako pinas since december po at wala po ako work ngaun pero willing nman po ako magbayad once na nkahanap po ako ng work ko, panay po tawag ng collector sa ate ko, tinatakot nila ung ate ko na pupuntahan daw ng police bahay nya at ipapadlock daw nila bahay nya, at magfile daw po cla ng criminal case against me, pwde po ba ung ginagawa nilang panghaharass sa ate ko, in the first place hindi nman po sya ang nkautang

    Reply
  5. Alden Richards

    Regarding naman po sa mga hulugan na furniture, yung mga nag babahay bahay, tama po ba na kunin nila ang furniture kapag hindi naka hulog on time. Without returning my downpayments and 2months na nahulogan na. Hindi nman kasi sila tatakbuhan, delayed lang ang hulog pero kukunin nila paano naman yung mga naibayad na sa kanila hindi ba modus po yun.kasi alam ko iaalok nman nila sa iba. May laban pa ba kami sa kanila. And for sure they don’t have permit para magbenta sa Barangay namin, Please advise po. Thanks.

    Reply
  6. jcrod

    hello po..ako po ay my utang sa cashwagon online lending.4000.00 po..indi ko po nbyaran dahil po wala na po ako sa trabaho.then after a month po naconfined po anak ko.kya po nkkranas ako ng finacial problem then .my tumawag po sa akin na police officer na nagsasabi na ako dw po any bibigyan nila ng bench warrant.then sinabi nya po sakin na kausapin ko dw po ang attorney na ngsampa sakin ng kaso..d ko po npakiusapan kc final n dw po ung case laban sakin byaran ko dw po agad agad ngaung araw ung umabot na sa 10k utang ko..then tinawagan ko po ulit ung officer wala dn po nabago sa mga sinabi nya iseserve dw po tlga nila ang bench warrant at maari dw po akong makulong..bka po pwede nyo ako mbgyan ng legal advise.thank you

    Reply

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