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.

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

  1. aprodite

    Good morning!

    May gusto po sana akong ikunsulta sa inyo and I know your the right person can give me the best answer for my problem.

    I used my HSBC credit card for almost 1 and 1/2 year. I continue using it by purchasing and paying all the bills with interest. Suddenly December 2011 when im purchasing one of the prestigious department store hindi daw magamit yung card ko. When I called at the costumer service of HSBC temporary hold daw I need to submit the documents which is ITR, Certificate of Employment and 2 months latest payslip. When I submitted all the requirements they said please wait for 24 hrs. Then after that I called again. They said “wala pa daw result call back within 3-5 banking days”. When I called again they said “wala padin daw result, so call again by 2-3 banking days.” and so on…. Until today March 26, 2012, wala padin result yung card ko but im continuing paying the minimum due every month but i cant use my card. Before they cut or hold my card I paid the amount of Php 8,000.00. After I paid that amount they hold my card with no valid reason, they did not inform me why they hold my card even notice or letter wala akong na-receive basta nalang nila hi-nold ng walang pasabi saken. Siguro 10 costumer service na yung nakausap ko na laging ganon ang sinasabi saken actually I listed all their names.

    Ano po ba ang dapat kong gawin? Kasi para pong paulit ulit nalang na ganon ang sinasabi nila. nagbabayad po ako ng maayos kaya bakit ganon ang ginagawa nila saken.

    Sana po mabigyan nyo ng kasagutan ang problema ko. Many Thanks!
    More power! GOD BLESS!

  2. charl


    I have a FRIEND who used to have GLOBE text PLAN. He was not able to settle his account which reached to the point his plan is cut. He has a total bill of Php 4,500.00 for 8 months + Php 7,000.00 breaching of contract fee.

    Any advise for him?

  3. frosita

    Hello po…. Mayroon po ako problema biglaan po na pauwi ang asawa galing abroad illegal worker lang po sya doon kaya po napa uwi agad.. naka utang po ako sa credit card ng cash ng malaking halaga almost 400,000.00 pesos. ngayon po di po ako makabayad ng mothly bill ko. Nag woworry po ako sa ikakaso nila sa akin. Ano po ang dapat ko gawin umaasa lang po sa kinikita ng asawa ko wala rin po ako job. Wala naman rin po kami ari arian para ipambayad sa kanila. Natatakot po ako sa mangyayari sakin maliliit pa mga anak ko. Ano po ikakaso nila sakin sa di ko pag bayad sakin utang. Sana po replayan nyo po ako .. Maraming salamat po…

  4. keviniango

    May credit card me at nakakapag bayad me above the minimum amount due ang problem po na nakawan me nung May at since nun hindi na ako nakapag bayad ang credit limit ko ay 15k lng pero 45k mahigit na sinisingil nila willing naman mag bayad po. May file na complaint sa mtc for estafa. Ano pwede ko gawin po? Hope ma advice niyo ako. Thanks po.

  5. cathyegpan

    Hi Sir,

    I am an ofw in uae and since i lost my job i left the country at umuwi dito sa pinas. Basically po, i dont have plans of running away from it. but noong dumating ako dito sa pinas, we were affected by bagyong pablo last december. my question is makakasuhan o makukulong po ba ako dito sa pinas since yung utang ko nasa uae?

  6. roaustria


    I have a question about a bill that was sent to me by a postpaid telecommunication that reached 649.000 pesos or more. As I read on the bill, it was the time that I went to Hong Kong for a vacation. My phone was just turned on when I went there without knowing that my roaming feature was on. After 2 months, they sent me a bill with that amount. I told them that the phone never had any notification that my roaming feature was on. With that, I just let my mobile internet to stay activated since it was part of the plan that I enrolled in (unlimited surfing). This was very unfair on my end. Honestly, I can’t pay this amount since I am not earning as much as this amount. I am even the one sending my sister to school leaving me with just enough money for my needs at home and at work. So, my question is, will I be sued and imprisoned because of this? Can I file a complain against this company to court for this is very unfair on my end. The phone did not give me any notification that my roaming feature was already on and this is the first time that I used a postpaid plan. Please help because this really makes me worry everyday. This is one of the reasons why I am thinner now because I keep thinking about it.

  7. julie ann

    gusto ko pong magtanong kung hindi makakabayad nang bank loan ang aming kapitbahay na ako po ang co maker, ako po ba ang magbabayad nang lahat nang utang niya sa banko yon kasi lumayas na ciya sa kanilang bahay? at paano ko po pakitungohan ang bank na utangan na niya?
    maraming salamat po

  8. aj

    Hi, nangutang po ako ng 20k nung January 2011 na ang nakaprenda eh yung payroll atm namin, ang binigay sa akin e 16,500, kasi kinaltas na nila yung tubo which is 18% payable in 3 months. so ang hulog ko eh 3,333 kada sahod kinsenas-katapusan. Nakapaghulog ako nung una, pero natanggal po ako sa trabaho, tapos di ako nakapaghulog ng pangalawa, pangatlo….ang hulog ko po uli e nung panganim na hulog na dapat na 3,333, so 4 ang di ko nahulugan. Kaya lang nabuntis po ako at tumigil sa trabaho, so tumubo po ng tumubo yun. hanngang sa maging 15k, nakipagayos ako at naghulog ako ng 5,500 tapos 3,500 uli. pero nagsara yung pinasukan ko, so tigil uli ako..tapos tumubo na naman, hanggang sa maging 23k na daw, naghulog uli ako, at nung huli ay 7000 nung february, kasi sinurrnder ko uli yung atm ko..kaso laging matagal bago ko makuha yung sukli sa sahod ko kasi nasa kanila yung atm ko. Bale lahat ng nahulog ko eh 22,500 lahat, yun nga lang tumagal ng 1 taon at kalahati kasi patigil tigil. Nung hindi na ko makabayad, sinampa nila direkta sa judge at pinadalhan ako ng notice of hearing, pero dun kami sa harap mismo ng judge magusap daw. ang sabi ko hulugan ko pero sana tigil na yung tubo kasi nabayaran ko na nman yung 22k. Ayaw nila pumayag. gusto nila kahit isinampa dirediretso, at kaibigan po nung nagsampa nung kaso yung judge. ano po ba maganda gawin?

  9. azhly

    Hi po ask ko lang po.dh ako sa hk before ng loan po ako don taz na termenate ako sa work ko.then 3 months ko lang nabayaran ang otang ko.may possibilities pi ba na kakasohan nila ako dito sa pinas kc hindi kopo natapos bayaran otang ko sa hk?pls po need ur reply.thank you!!!

  10. thompson

    My employer asked me to sign an agreement, and asked me to pay a penalty of 5000 pesos for referring our applicants to other company not related to us for them to secure their visa.

    The nature of my employer’s business is consultancy, I referred our clients to an insurance company.

    And now since they did not get commission on that, they are asking me to pay 5000 as a penalty because according to them I violated the company rules by not telling it to them. But I believe, that referral has nothing to do with our operations, that’s why.

    There were no any agreement between my company and the insurance company.

    What should I do? I already signed the agreement because I had no choice, if I don’t I will be terminated, and that money will be deducted from my salary.

    And now I am thinking of resigning or making an AWOL because of that.

    It is with great regret that I signed that letter.

    Will I be sued because of that? If I made an awol without settling the 5k?

    I do not know, I am confused.

    Please help


  11. John jans

    May utang po kc sa credit card may nagpunta s barangay namin na kukuhanin daw lahat ng ari arian namin.ang nanay ko po sobrang takot nanginig ang katawan.may sakit sya s puso.kanino po ako pwede magreklamo ng harrassment

  12. Joanne

    Hi, I have unpaid credit cards almost 5 years ago since I resigned from my job I didn’t have the capacity to pay, and now I would like to settle it now in installment basis, Is it possible to do this? Please help me enlighten this.

  13. Samantha

    I’d like to asked for legal assistance. My brother was a co-maker of my ex husband for a loan issuing checks for payment. Now they were served a criminal case and called for hearing. Instead they decided to work with the lender’s legal dept. I just want to know if the lender has the right to imprison them though a promisory letter and a joint agreement for payment will be made and countersigned at the lender’s office?.Pls email me answers for security purposes. Tnx!

  14. AJ

    Gooday. Is there a case if you filled your ATM lost? I was deducted for 3mnths then i filled lost because the lending company is taking everything my salary, bonuses and allowances. I’m suffering from financial crisis right now i need the money to feed my family and pay for the bills. I’m willing to make payments but i don’t want to give my ATM to them anymore.

  15. jersey

    Would like to ask an advice from you, they usedonly my name and got a summo s frm our baranggay regarding this. NO SIGNATURE AND CONTRACT HAPPENED… WHAT SHOULD I RESPONSE TO IT , DO I NEED TO APPEAR ANDHAVE MY SENTIMENTS TO OURBARANGGAY?


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