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The sweet talker

Judy was charged by the City Prosecutor with the crime of estafa committed thru false pretenses is defined under Article 315, paragraph 2(a) of the Revised Penal Code.

The prosecution was able to establish that Malou, a public school teacher, was introduced by her co-teacher to Judy. After the introduction, Judy inquired from Malou if she would like to purchase an agricultural land. Malou replied that while she is interested, she does not have the money.

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Judy made sweet convincing words in offering the land for sale. She told Malou that the agricultural land, with an area of 1,000 sqm, is being sold only for P50,000 in installments.

Convinced by Judy’s representations, Malou gave Judy sums of money for the payment of notarial fees, fees for the Registry Deeds, Bureau of Lands and Bureau of Internal Revenue, capital gains tax, the approved plan, and the affidavit of no landholdings and improvements.

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Malou, however, at a given point, doubted Judy as to why the latter did not give her official receipts. Judy then promised to bring the tax declaration that was already issued in her name.

Judy met Malou anew and asked for the payment for the titling of the lot. Again, Malou gave Judy money. In turn, Judy gave to Malou a photocopied tax declaration which was indeed issued in the name of the latter.

In her effort to raise the purchase price, Malou then went to a lending company to secure a loan. In fact, she went to several lending companies to secure a loan and she was told that the tax declaration has to be authenticated. It was when she went to the City Assessor’s Office that she discovered that the official tax declaration printout was not registered in her name. What she received from Malou was a fake tax declaration.

Judy denied the allegations of Malou. She claimed that Malou asked for assistance regarding the property involved, because the latter had some debts. At the instance of Malou, Judy made it appear that the former had sought her help in the processing of the application for title to the land to show to her creditors how she had spent their money.

As requested, Judy issued receipts for the benefit of Malou so the latter could show to her creditors that her property papers were being processed.

Malou was also told to prepare another note that the receipts were not genuine, but she was afraid to get involved and get prejudiced by the receipts prepared by her. To show that it was just a scheme, she presented a document allegedly signed by Malou, in which Malou admitted that her land title application was just for show to her creditors.

Q: Who has the burden of proving the guilt of the accused?

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A: Under Article III, Section 14, paragraph 2, as provided under the Bill of Rights of the 1987 Philippine Constitution, a defendant in a criminal action shall be presumed innocent until the contrary is proved.

This burden of proving an accused’s guilt beyond reasonable doubt belongs exclusively to the prosecution, and once there is reasonable doubt that an accused’s guilt has been satisfactorily shown, the accused shall be entitled to an acquittal.

Q: What are the elements of estafa committed through false pretenses?

A: In order to sustain a charge and conviction under paragraph 2(a) of Article 315 of the Revised Penal Code, the prosecution must be able to prove beyond reasonable doubt the concurrence of the following elements:

(1) the accused has defrauded another by abuse of confidence or by means of deceit; and

(2) damage or prejudice capable of pecuniary estimation is caused to the offended party or third person.

Q: What is fraud?

A: Fraud, in its general sense, is deemed to comprise anything calculated to deceive, including all acts, omissions and concealment involving a breach of legal or equitable duty, trust or confidence justly reposed, resulting in damage to another, or by which an undue and unconscientious advantage is taken of another.

On the other hand, deceit is the false representation of a matter of fact, whether by words or conduct, by false or misleading allegations, or by concealment of that which should have been disclosed; and which deceives or is intended to deceive another so that he shall act upon it, to his legal injury.

Q: Is Judy criminally liable for estafa through false pretenses?

A: Yes. It is evident that Judy employed deceitful tactics to make Malou part with her money in order to purchase the lot purportedly offered for sale by Judy to the former. Judy’s act of misrepresenting herself as having the requisite authority to sell the alleged property set in motion a chain of events that led to the eventual parting of Malou with her hard-earned money.

Without the representation from Judy that she was authorized to sell the property, Malou would not have parted with her money to make advances for the payment of notarial documents, titling and other documentary fees necessary for the transfer of title of the said property from the registered owner to her. Judy could have simply returned the money wrongfully taken from Malou after her failure to transfer the property, but instead denied receiving a single centavo from Malou.

(Source: Ortega vs. People of the Philippines, G.R. No.177944, December 24, 2008)

Ma. Soledad Deriquito-Mawis is the Dean of College of Law at the Lyceum of the Philippines University, and member of the Board of Trustees, Philippine Association of Law Schools

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