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.

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

  1. Kylie

    Good day!

    Me and my friend was having a business, it was lending business. I will have a certain percent to the lending… then some of our debtors runaway. It was me who know the person. Then afterwards My friend is now mad at me because of the incident. it was 100,000.00 to sum up. She’s telling me that she will file a case on me. Please help me.

  2. George

    My wife who is now suffering from Liver cirhossis has a credit card dues in the amount of about 300k. Due to her big medical expenses we won’t be able to pay the full amount. But we are willing at a much lower compromised amount. The amount they are asking became big becuase of interest, penlaties and other charges. Will I be a husband be held responsbile to pay? We are bothe senior citizen and has no means to pay except with the help of some relatives. Please help

  3. Belen

    I was married to a muslim guy in a civil wedding. After a year he went to Basilan and never come back , only to learn that he got married to a muslin woman also. After 3 years i got impregnated by a guy, after i bore the child i went to brunei for a work to support my child. I never got married again . after 20 years i got to know that muslim was died Knowing that i’m his legal wife i did process documents to support my claim to his sss death benefit. but unfortunately i i learned that the 2nd woman was able to claim his sss benefit.

    do i have the right to claim of whatever he left, is my marriage contract to him is still valid ? after a long years of separation , i have a child but i never got married again. please help

  4. jerson

    im jerson s. gaerlan from moncada tarlac, teacher at deped. magtatanong lng po ako mula sa inyong butihing tanggapan tungkol sa isang banko ( eastwest rural bank tarlac) nag salary loan po ako sa kanila with maturity of 36 months and after 10 months pina buy out ko po sa isang bangko nagtaka po ako kse halos di gumalaw amount sa SOA pinabayaran po sakin ung whole interest na 36 months. hindi po makatarungan iyon kse po binayaran ko ng mas maaaga ung loan ko po. nais ko po sanang maaksyunan mga ganitong sistema ng bankong sana po marefund ko ung binayad ko na interest.

    salamat po.

  5. Em


    i just wanted to know kung papaano ko makakasingil ng pautang sa isang pulis manila kahit wala naman kaming kasunduan o kasulutan. at ang tangin meron ako ay mga text messages.. sana matulungan nyo ako.

  6. miriam

    good day po..
    ask ko po sna kung my nkukulong s hindi pgbyad ng interest at penalty ng nloan po n cp? kc ngloan po ako s homecredit bgo irelease ung cp ngbyd ako ng 30%.tas monthly 796 for 6 hnd ko po nbyarn ntong 3 buwan n ntira cmula oct hnggng nga po umuwe ako ng probnsya.hnggng ngaun nandto p dn po ako at wala dn po kc akong trbho..tngnan ko po online ang paymnt ko umbot n po ng 5100+.npklaki po ng penalty at interest 2100.. ok lng po b n byarn ko nlng po ang blanse ko n 796 n 3 buwan at di ko n po byarn at mga penlty at interest..thank you po..pls response po

  7. Zaldy

    Good day Atty.,

    Nakautang po ako ng P50,000 sa isang tao kung baba 5/6 with 10% interest. Isang beses ko lang po nahulugan. Hangang lumaki ng lumaki. Hindi ko pa mabayaran dahil may inunaakong ibang bayarin. Nabigay na po ng threat ung may ari ng pera na mag pa NBI daw sya. Ano po pwede gawin. Please advice.

  8. Sweetheart

    Nkhiram po ako sa lending company ng 30k ginamit ko sa bisnes taz nagsara po ung bisnes nmin then dn po ako nkbayd last na nag usap kmi ng lending company 21k ang utang ko then nkiusap ako na bayarn ko nalang kabuan nung 30k since ksama na dun ung interest then nung nov 2016 ngbigay ako ng 4k, then dec. 3k, jan, 3k end of jan 2k. Nag aalala po ako kc bk mmya lagyan pa nila ng tubo na lalo ako mahirapan magbayd since wala pa nmm reg na trabaho.anu po ba ikakaso nila sakin me laban po ba ako f ever.

  9. may


    Good day! May the Lord bless you and your family.

    I am May and a mother of 5 I worked as a regular call center agent way back 2013 at one of the known call centers here. I am currently located here in the province of Negros Oriental.My partner unfortunately do not have a stable job.He is working as a glass installer. Sometimes he is hired to butcher and cook LECHON which his salary is 160.00 Php per pig.
    An incident happened to my 3rd daughter way back 2013 at that time she was 2 years old. I needed money so I can have her checked by a specialist. So I opted to borrow money from a lending company here at my province. I used the money to have my baby checked and pay the bills as well as purchase her medicines.Original amount is 40,000.00 Php and they took my ATM as collateral.The lending company directly withdrew my salary and give me the remaining money left after they deduct my loan payment.
    Everything was going well until I got sick.I wasn’t able to pay since I lost my job. I was jobless for many months and then was lucky to be hired again but needed to quit since no one can tend to my babies.I got several different jobs but only lasted for 3 – 4 months since I needed to take care of my babies. I was transferring from one company to the other. Then jobless again.
    Unfortunately I got pregnant on my fourth kid. The pregnancy was rough since I need to deliver the baby through forceps delivery October of 2014.I was again jobless. When my baby was 4 months old I applied and got hired in early month of 2015,however I quit the job since I will be assigned in Manila. Then I tried to apply in other centers, I got hired but quit after a few months since I got sick and diagnosed for TOXIC GOITER and GALL STONES.I didn’t give up instead I applied again and was hired February of 2016 however I was not expecting that I was again pregnant for my fifth child.My OB advised me to stay bed rest to avoid miscarriage so I again resigned.I quit from my job July 2016.
    Then I gave birth to a premature baby girl August of 2016.Which until now don’t have a birth certificate since I have an existing unpaid hospital bill.Being the breed winner I need to work.After a month I then try to look for a job to sustain my families needs.Luckily I was hired last September 2016 but my salary was not enough to support my family. I was earning 4,000.00 Php per pay out 15 and 30 of each month minus the SSS,Pag-ibig and TAX. I stayed with the company from September 2016 until January of 2017. When the company declared bankruptcy and need to let go some of their employees since I was not a regular employee so I was one of the few who were asked to stop. I was again jobless and now March of 2017 I was hired and currently working with a salary of 10,000.00 Php monthly excluding taxes and government mandated deductions.
    I was shocked when my salary loan turned out to be over 300,000.00 Php now and I am bothered and worry. I have 5 children age 10,8,5,2 and 7 months old.I am acting as their father since I am the breed winner, my live in partner on the other hand trying to help me. He accepts and do any job offered to him as long as he can earn as well.My 3 kids are currently studying at a government elementary school here in our province.
    I cant sleep every night for one of the company employee told me that they will file a case and imprison me. I am confused,worried and bothered cant concentrate. Since a lot of people told me that this said firm will really find a way to put their clients in jail for unpaid debt.
    I really need help badly, a lot of things are entering my mind now. I am planning to commit suicide but I cant leave my children behind.

    Please help me….I need help….

  10. Cielo

    i took a loan here in Dubai for me and my friend, she promised to pay me immediately but instead she went to the Philippines while I’m in Dubai and must need to pay since it is under my name. We do not have written agreement about that, though we have messages for the follow ups and promises. What can I do to chase the payment.

  11. Mark

    The following is copied from the original article
    “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.”
    “The constitutional prohibition against non imprisonment” that’s a double negative, so what it is saying is that there is a constitutional provision in favour of imprisonment for a debt.

    The sentence would be much better if it read ” . . laws violate the constitutional prohibition against imprisonment for non-payment of a debt.”

  12. Ryan

    I hope you can help me with my concern.
    I bought a phone for intallment from home credit
    I paid the exact amount of the phone but i failed to pay the interest which is 10,000. Due to money problem. Its been a yr now since i did not pay this amount. And right now a police officer call my friends regarding my loan. Is that the right way to communicate with a person who has a debt?

    Looking forward to your answers.
    Thank you and have a nice day.


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