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.

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

  1. Marcus

    Can or How to sue PLDT?

    They wrongly installed the Home DSL i applied to some other people’s home. After multiple complaints, they transfer the unit from my address (in the application) to my current address, which is the SAME. Then they charge me for the wifi service that I didnt use from the period they wrongly installed. Complaints are made, and the issue still not yet solved. Every month I need to go to PLDT to explain the whole story over and over, and they just push the balance that they wanted me to pay to the next month.

    Can I cancel my services despite in the contract it bounds me for a year of service? They breached the contract when they provide bad services to me.

    Please advise.
    Thank you.

  2. norman

    Good day. Just want to ask an advice. I have a personal loan in a lending company and the interest is very high almost 60% and at that time I borrowed the money I did not even care about the interest because I am badly in need at that time. I paid the amount almost have of the agreement but now I did not continue my payment because I felt pressured with the interest and I am afraid the possible sunction regarding the matter. Any advice is appreciated. thank you very much.

  3. Mercedez

    Hi good day..last august 2017 nag business ako ng itlog at ang supplier ko nagdeliver sa akin ng 840 trays pero dahil sa issue ng bird flu di ko sya nabinta at humiling ako na isasauli ko ang mga eggs..pero di na daw puede isauli ang ginawa ko ipinautang ko din pero di ako nakasingil dahil 4days palang daw ang eggs bulok sinisingil ako ng supplier ng eggs pero wala ako pang bayad..nag banta na ididimanda na daw ako…pero wala nman ako pinirmahan na kasulatan na ako’y nakautang or official reciept man lang…ako kaya po puede ko gawin.??please help me need your advice
    Thank u in advance

  4. iel

    Hello. I do have the same case re
    garding this loan agency who harass and treath people trying to destroy a debtor who is incapable
    Of paying due to certain circumstances. I cannnot even afford to get a lawyer… is this worth a person’s life? How tragic and ironic human had become because of greed and money nor power. Why does the state allow this kind of business and permit them to legally destroy another human being. May GOD cease them and hope they know how to save their souls.

  5. Cosie

    Hi sirs/ma’am, yung loan ko since 2011 na 3400 lang siya, hindi ko nabayaran kase nagabroad ako so hindi ko naasikaso, and sabi ko ioffset nalang sa natirang pera ko sa coop. Ngayong 2017 binigyan ako ng sulat, final demand letter daw tas umabot na siya 17000, akala ko tapos na noon kase hindi naman sila nagnotice noon sana habang maaga pa. Ngayon umabot na ganun kalaki. Thank you po.

  6. Owel


    I would very much appreciate your advice on my financial problem. I was a previously working as an OFW for 7 years, pero I am back here na sa Pinas working in a contact center since July 2016. I currently have accumulated a credit card debt of 280+ thousand. My wife left the country last year to work as well to help our finances and support the family as well. The problem now is she is also back home due to visa issues when she returned for her vacation, she was no longer allowed to go back. I was able to make ends meet only paying the minimum amount due averaging to 15000 pesos a month for more than a year now, but I won’t be able to continue this since I am now the only 1 working to support the family. You may be wondering how I was able to accumulate this large amount of debt. Me my wife have made very poor choices in handling our finances when I was still working abroad, one of the many OFW failure stories.

    Sana po may makapag advise kung anu po yun pinaka maganda na gawin ko for the moment. Wala po akong plano na takbuhan yun utang ko, pero sa ngayon, mas uunahin ko na suportahan ang pamilya ko kesa bayaran yun minimum amount due na more or less 15000k a month.

    Maraming salamat po in advance.


  7. Rhea

    Hi po.. I would to seek for advise.. I got a loan from. Doctor Cash/Moola Lending amounting to 15k.. And they have a processing fee of 10% so ang mkkuha q lng is 13500. The day after ma deposit ung loan s atm ko is pina CANCELLED ko xa thru email.. Kasi po ung ATM ko is nkasanla then sabi ko sa pinagsanlaan ko is hihiramin q muna ung ATM ko para ma withdraw q kung loan q sa Doctor cash but unfortunately di na nagpakita sken ung pinagsanlaan q the day before ma deposit ung pera.. Kaya agad agad ko xa pina Cancelled then afternoon sabi ng Doctor na na deposit na daw ung pera. Sabi q po hindi ko nakuha ung pera at pina cancelled ko n yun bago pa nila ma deposit. Pero they still keep me want to pay for that and after 1 month umabot n xa ng 30k.. And after 1 week may collecting agency n tumatawag sken at harrasssed na they going to file a BENCH WARRANT at ppunta daw sila s bahay kasama ang sheriff para i check daw ung property q at sumama nlang daw po aq ng maayos s pulis to avoid comotion daw.. I want to know kung legal po ggwen nila at kelangn q sumama sa knila.. To think di q nmn kasalanan un dahil pinapa cancel q po ung loan n un una plng.. Anu po ggwen q? Pag pmnta po b cla s bahay kelangan q b i deny na dun aq naktira.. Please help po.. Thank u

    1. rhegin

      anu na po nangyari sa inyo i have the same scenario with dr. cash… nag punta po ba sila sa inyo… mayron po bang na file na case… tinatakot din po kc ako nung collection agency nila…. ang utang ko po ay 4000 nagbayad ako ng 8000 kulang pa daw kelangan ko pa daw magbayad ng 7000

  8. Jovie

    Hi Po, may cousin po ako na nangutang sa isang kakilala lang sa Barangay, Sa totoo lang my Group talaga sila na nagpapautang, 1st, 2nd utang nagbabayad ung cousin ko, may mga pinapapirmahan nman kasi na documet(legal documet), pero nung 3rd time na nangutang siya sinabihan siya na personal money niya daw un and labas na sa opisina nila, pinapirma lang siya sa isang maliit na papel, mejo nagipit cousin ko kaya hindi siya nakabayad in due date, after nun, tumatawag na ung Guy na inutangan niya asking for something personal, my cousin is a guy also, ung guy na inutangan niya nagttxt at nag call na ng mga bastos like pumunta sa bahay nila, majamming, lumabas, meron siyang sexual interest sa cousin ko, pero dahil sa galit ng cousin ko, dinendma nalang niya hindi na siya nagbayad ng utang hanggang sa 2yrs nakalipas, sa ngaun nag file ng case sa Baranggay ung Guy, na malaki na daw porsiyento ng utang, pero hindi sumisipot ung cousin ko, Anu po ba dapat Gawin? kapag hindi daw mag appear cosuin ko sa baranggay, may pupunta ng pulis sa bahay nila. by the ang utang lang ng cousin ko is 3500 ata or 4500 pasagot nman po, Thank you

  9. rhegin

    I have receive a text message yesterday informing “Expect our official common to arrest you (Bench Warrant) at exactly 11am tommorow together with the sheriff to issue write of preliminary attachment to check your property. Pls be informed for your voluntary surrender to avoid commotion at your place. from PCSI Enrico Rosales”

    I have a personal loan with “DR. Cash” amounting to Php 4000 and I receive a proceed of Php 3600 because they deducted Php 400 for interest. Yesterday they are asking me Php 15,000 to settle this so that they will not push the case. I was only able to pay Php 8000 and they ask for the remaining Php 7000.

    I do not have that amount with me right now and on my opinion I have paid double the amount I borrowed. Should I be worried about this ? What action should I do ? Please let me know your advise. Thank you in advance.

  10. Selyn

    Hi po!

    Ask lng po. I have unpaid dues for my credit card po. I wasn’t able to settle it since I have a low paying job po. Ngayon may mga demand letters po na dumadating sa bahay. Last letter that I have received was that it states na they will file a case under small claims daw. Ngayon hindi ko po mabayaran since ang sahod ko is enough lang talaga for my bills. Sana meron kayong mabigay na advice po. Thank you

  11. Jonas

    OFW po ako, may pinahiraman po ako kapitbahay sa pinas ng more than 200k, may written agreement kami na one month with 10% interest. Sinabi ko sa kanya na family ko maniningil since wala ako sa Pinas. After a month nagstart na family ko maningil, nung una nagbigay xa 20k for the interest taz humingi pa ng isang buwan na extension, pinagbigyan po siya, until the follwing month puro na lang siya promise at hindi naman nagbabayad sa binibigay nyang dates, after umabot ng 4 months nagpagawa kami ng demand letter and gumawa siya promisory note. Pero hindi pa din nasunod yun promisory note. Humingi na din kami ng tulong sa baranggay pero hindi din siya sumipot sa 3x na meeting. Ano po ang dapat gawin. At ano po amg magiging kaso niya? May pag asa pa kaya na masingil namin siya?

  12. mi Amore

    good day ask ko lang po if mkukulong po ba ako kung ngloan ako sa banko tpos di ako nkabayad then ngayon nsa abroad na ko. ano po pwede ko gawin?

  13. mitch

    Hi. My sister borrowed money amounting to 80k to a friend. total borrowed money including interest is 128k. my sister id paying 2500/month bec of high interest We also gave o.r/c.r of our car. He is demanding us to get the car. or else he will file against my sister. what can we do? Thanks

  14. alan

    I have taken out a bank loan of 20 on a property in manila worth 26M…i have been servicing this debt for about one year but can no longer pay my monthly installmetns. I have decided just to walk away from the debt and my property. Can I be arrested and imprisoned over this ?


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