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.

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

  1. Mesh

    Hi,
    I need an advice also. I borrowed Php14,000.00 from a lending company last year around May. Then failed to pay my debt since August as I had undergone breast operation. The lending company keeps on calling my sister until October and that is also the last month that I received an email reminder/billing from the said lending company. Then last month my aunt call me to inform that someone is looking for me due to my loan. My aunt don’t know who it was as she said that person didn’t say much aside from I owe them money. Then suddenly this Tuesday my aunt calls me again telling that a certai/ attorney had come and gave a warning letter that I only have until Wednesday to pay for Php26,816. That atty told her that she will bring the cops on Wednesday if I failed to paid for it. Then Wednesday I called that atty and ask for an extention so I could pay and if we can agreed on terms but then she just laugh and insulted me telling me I don’t have a sense of urgency. Since I don’t have monwy on hand I’ve ask her if I can just give a downpayment of 1000.00. We agreed that I will pay 1000 that day. My aunt called again and she said that a certain cop or chief of police called her and tell her that they will arrest her and imprison her that day because of my debt. Btw, I’m leaving with my aunt last year so I’ve used her address. My aunt is mentally unstable so I was also afraid that something might happens to her because of that rude atty and cop harrassment. I paid for the 1000 that Wednesday and I’m currently waiting for an email from the lending company since Thursday as I have requested for the breakdown of my billing but to no avail until now. I’ve also requested that same copy from the atty but to no avail. This morning a certain girl called me asking for the status of my payment as she was ordered by the atty. I’ve ask again for the copy but 2 hours had past now I haven’t receive it. If there is an Attorney Fee of Php5000.00 in the billing, can I refuse to pay for it and just pay for the 21,618 instead? I’m not the one who hired an atty so why would I pay that? Also that atty had beennothing but rude when she talks to me over the phone and with my aunt. Lastly the harrass my aunt and I think that is reason enough not to pay for the 5000 atty fee written in the contract. Kindly advise if it is possible to decline on the atty fee.
    Thank you.

    Reply
  2. Gerald

    I loaned money from a loaning company and I wasn’t able to pay the remaining 2k last year and the interests gone up now for almost 32k. Now, the law firm called me to settle the payment and if I won’t be able to pay it it would be consider as a estafa. But I’m not hiding from them and they where able top contact me on my number. Will I go to the prison or to the court? What would be the sanctions.

    Reply
  3. Gerald

    Continuation of my message here, I’m willing to pay my debt but I’m currently jobless right now. I won’t be able to pay it right away. As soon as I have a new job I will pay them.

    Reply
  4. Anatalio

    Gud day, my loan po aq sa asialink na 20k, nkapag hulog na po aq ng 3times ng indi pa po ng struggle ang aming business, na stop po ang aming paghuhulog monthly ng as in ng down ang aming business pero ung remaining po na dapat cash ang ibabayad nmin monthly ng release po kmi ng 9check sa knila ngunit sa indi po inaasahan my ibang tao kmi ni relesan ng check at ipinasok ng wla pa date at wlang abiso samin Na ipapasok na niya ang check nmin, kaya po ng close ang aming check account, ngunit wala pa po sa date para ipasok ng asialink ang aming check sinabihan na po nmin sila na wag ipasok sapagkat ngka problem po ang aming tseke at kukunin nalang nmin sa knila ang 9check na ibinigay nmin sa knila, ngunit ndi na po sila nkipag communicate samin mging ang aming collector, at ng january po 2mawag samin ang atty ryan lim na sinasabing nka file na daw po ang aming case sa court ganung wla po kmi natatanggap na demand letter, or any letter mula sa asialink, at nitong May po may ngtxt samin na bibigyan na nila kmi ng subpoena wid in 48 hours. Give me an advice po kung pwede po ba mkarating sa court kaagad agad ang aming situation kahit wla po kami any pormal letter na natatanggap o pinipirmahan. Salamat po. Pls advice po

    Reply
  5. jomel

    hi ,good day po .
    this my issue ,my wife is a Avon member but she left it
    we thought that we already paid our balance of 2400 ..
    until a woman tells us she is a Avon member so pinadala namin yung pera nah 2400..
    after 2 months Avon txted us that we a have a currently balance ,naloko po kami Hindi ko po alam gagawin ko

    paanu naming mababayaran ang balance kasi po lumalaki ng lumalaki ang balance namin dahil sa interest last month of may nagbayad po ako kala koh 2400 pa ang balance naging 4200 na binayaran ko 500 muna..tapos nagtxt yung
    malapit na po mag 2months uli Hindi pa ako nakakabayad

    please help po.

    please
    thanks pro

    .

    Reply
  6. dawn

    gud day po!.,please help me namn po..kailangan ko po talga Ng legal advice nyo..nagpahiram po Kasi ako ng 6,000.00 sa Isang kakilala..may kasunduan kami na bbyaran nya Yun for 40 days na may kasamang tubo na 20%..nagpapa 5-6 po ako sa lugar namin..bale, 180.00 /day..after 40 days, may balance po sya sa akin na 5,000.00..at Yung isa pang issue, may mga pangalan Ng mga kamag anak nya Yung inilapit din nya sa akin na hhiram daw..so bnigyan ko rin po..nung mag due date na Yung nasa pangalan Ng kamag anak nya, nung sinisingil ko na, nalamn ko bigla na siya rin pala gumamit nung pera..gnamit nya Lang pala Yung pangalan Ng kamag anak nya para mkhiram sa akin..sa total po, nasa 7,000.00 po LAHAT Ng unpaid balance nya ksama na Yung nasa pangalan Ng kamag anak nya..ang problem, Hindi sya nkikioag settle sa akin..pinagtataguan nya po ako, at kapag nkkharap ko namn puro pangako Lang din sya..pero khit piso Wala pa syang bnibigay para man Lang Sana mbawasan Yung balance nya..I’m planning na ilapit na po yung problem ko sa brgy.,

    ano po dapat Kung gawin?..plssss po!.,

    Reply
  7. Lei

    May I consult through e-mail? I hope you can allow me to do this, since I am looking for some legal help on my issues. Thank you so much.

    Reply
  8. Ann

    My mother died almost 2 weeks ago. We don’t live together. After her death, her landlord is forcing us to pay her unpaid house rental and utility bills. He’s harassing us and saying bad things to us. I just want to check if we are liable to pay the debts of my late mom or not. Your reply/advice/comments will be much appreciated. Thank you.

    Reply
  9. Ann

    Hi,

    My mother died almost 2 weeks ago. We don’t live together. After her death, her landlord is forcing us to pay her unpaid house rental and utility bills. He’s harassing us and saying bad things to us. I just want to check if we are liable to pay the debts of my late mom or not. Your reply/advice/comments will be much appreciated. Thank you.

    Reply

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