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.

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

  1. Rizel

    I have a more than 500k debt on all my credit cards, im willing to settle it but i cant afford to pay in full. Can i request them to stop the charges and pay them at least 1,000 per month each card just to settle it. I have so many obligations to and my salary is still kulang to pay all our necessities… Please advise me coz they were texting me about ra8484 and im afraid that they will file a case against me… And they were calling in the office always as early as 8am…


    My Filipino fiancee’ borrowed a car from a friend to provide transportation in Cebu. She hit a little boy and killed him as he ran across the street. The family of the boy has asked for $3000.00 USD for burial, and compensation.

    My fiancee’ is working at a call center as a trainee, and the company is threatening to dismiss her if she does not make restitution to the family, and the family is threatening to have her placed in jail.

    I do not trust what she has to say, and she will not provide me a copy of the police report, and in addition she would not even tell me where the police station was so that I could pick her up.

    I do not believe that she is truthful with me in any regard.

    Can someone provide me with the truth on this matter?

  3. Honey14

    Sir good day!tanong lang po.meron po akng unpaid utang from d lending company 7k nalang yong balance.pinadalhan po nila ako nang demand letter..hindi ko pinarmahan yon kasi bayaran ko day for 5 days..pinagawa nila ako nang letter stating that i will pay d whole amount on that date.kaso po hindi ko talaga na bayaran laht yan na po yong 7k na balance.sabi nila ma pa bloter na daw ako.ano pa ang stand po nito pls reply..urgent po kasi

    1. Ann

      Hi mam ask ko lng po anu ngyare sa utang nio sa lending? Ganyan din po sitwadyon ko now eh. Sabi nila mgkita nlng kmi sa korte.

  4. zackzildjiansabian

    May nakukulong ba sa di pagbabayad ng motor na kinuha ng hulugan?na Carnap kasi ang motor ko 3 months palang siya sakin nung na Carnap,wala pa akong trabaho ngayon kaya di ko pa mabayaran,ang sbi sakin ng dealer ng motor pag di pa ko nakapagbayad ngayong DEC ikkorte na dw nila,kumuha ako report galing sa ancar (anti-carnapping) nagpunta din ako sa camp crame sa TMG nag report din ako at sa LTO,may nakukulong ba sa di pagbabayad ng motor na kinuha?salamat

    1. Dred

      Pareho po tau ng problema naka 2 yrs na kmi mahigit nagbayad sa motor taz na carnap last yr motor namin kulang na babayaran is 9 months hindi na namin nabayaran gawa ng gipit na kmi at nagkataon na na diagnose ako ng cancer kaya dko na tlga nababayaran yung kulang ngayn nagpapadala ang legal team nila ng demand letter for payment kng hindi iaakyat dw nila sa korte… kmi na nga nawalan ng motor kakasuhan pa eh kng tutuusin naka 2 yrs na kmi mahigit ng bayad sa motor bago yun ma carnap…makukulong ba ako? Sana naman may sumagot…

      1. Maicy

        Same po tayo pero 11 months plang saken nawala nung mismong ika 1 taon October 28 simula po nun hindi na ako nakapag hulog sobrang gipit po ako ngaun pinadalan po nila ako demand paper pero wala po syang notaryo makukulong po ba ako? and isa pa po ung sinasabi nila na demand paper pinost ng co maker ung sa kanya and syempre andun din po name ko may karapatan po ba ako mag sampa ng kaso pa reply naman po asap

        1. Maicy

          Tas ipapabarangay po daw ako ng co maker ko hindi po kase ako nakakapunta sa ofis nila kase po pumapasok ako sa work.

  5. Marylie

    Good day everyone, need ko Lang po advice.. 13 yrs nang dead ang father ko, before yun xia namatay mai hiniraman siyang pera na ngayun an patay na rin (3yrs ago).. Here comes the niece daw nang hiniraman ni father ko kami yong sinisingil dahil utang daw yon nang papa namin at gusto nyang kaming mga anak mag bayad sa kanya dahil sya daw iniwanan ng authorization pra singilin kami.. utang ni papa is 3k plus lng ata, yan Lng na remmber ni mama na hiram pero ang sabi ng niece 10k plus daw.. do we really need to pay na matagal nmang patay ang papa ko at patay na rin yong hiniraman.. pls help.. thanks

  6. jaja

    Hi, I don’t intend to prison the one who owed me…But I want to block him from getting work here in Philippines and abroad. What should I charge to her….

  7. Ingoodfaith

    Good day!

    Gusto ko po sana humingi ng advise. Nagloan po ako ng personal loan sa isang Bank. Nag Issue po ako ng mga checks. Kaso po since July 2014 upto present di na po ako nakapagbayad kasi po nawala po ako ng work at na hospitalized po ang mother ko po. Sinabi ko po yung Bank I have intension to pay kaso hindi sa ganun kalaking halaga. Kasi po kakapasok ko lang po sa bago ko pong work. Makukulong po ba ako for estafa case?

    Please advise. I am badly needed it.

    Thank you.



  8. roavenie

    Good Day!

    I am an employee of a certain Cooperative for five years. At may loan po ako amounting 60,000 pesos at hindi pa po due date. And may utang po ako na 40,000 na goods. May charge pa po sa akin na despalco na pera amounting 40,000 pesos. Kasi po sa despalco bago plng ako na employee noon at wala akong alam sa mga laws kaya wala akong nagawa nung ncharge sa akin..may board resolution po silang hawak at nagsasabing ismall claims court case nila ako.. Total amount na po yung sinisingil nila at pinapapa promisorry note ako. nagresign na po ako due to stress kasi po 4months pa lang akong nanganak. I believe po na Im a good employee to them aside sa bulok nilang system. Ilang years na po akong ginugulo nila. paulit2 nlng po kahit inadmit ko na lahat at nagcompromise na ako. nagpromisorry na din ako dati. nakakastress na po kasi talaga emotionally. makukulong po ba ako. what should I do. I need an advice. Thank you

  9. shirlz

    My collegue induced me to invest in her businesses with a promise to give me a seven percent share in profits which for me is a gteat offer as it will help us increase oir income. To be able to raise the needed capital, I and my husband applied for a renewal of our loans from lending institutions and able to invest a total of Php 696 438. But now I had a hard time retrieving my money as well as the shares with she promised me which I already lowered to 9186 per month just so she can pay me. She now represents herself from a bigtime businesswoman to a broke one. Do I still have the chance to get back my money? How? Please help me.

  10. trina

    Hi po,

    May utang po aq sa isang lending company, atm po prenda nung 2012 pa. Nafraud po at naclone ung atm kong hawak nila at 20k ung nawala sa bank account kaya napasara po ung account dahil payroll un.

    Ngaun po, dahil po hnd ko pa alam san galing at san pumunta ung 20k, hnd ko na po sinurrender ung bagong atm ko sa kanila. Hnd ko n rn po nabayaran ung utang ko dalawang taon na. Tapos nagsend po sila last week ng april ng demand letter to pay the amount with the interests. Within 5 days daw po or else they will take legal actions daw.

    Aalis po ako ng bansa this week, magwowork for 6 months abroad padala ng company. Tanong ko lang po, kung magsasampa po ba sila ng kaso eh criminal po ba un at may karapatan po ba silang magpaissue ng HDO sa immigration?

    Saka po possible po bang madeport ako dahil dun?

    Thanks in advance pi

  11. jon

    i bought a motorcycle thru financing up to 3yrs from a motorcycle company located at espana manila.
    the first year the branch closed without informing me. i tried to inquire at SM san lazaro manila if its possible to pay my loan at thier branch, they said yes i may, so the whole year i paid my loan at that branch.
    the problem is, that branch moved again without informing us. i don’t know where am i supposed to pay my loan. i decided to check if i can get my certificate of registration from the LTO, fortunately i was able to get it. is it lawful if i will no longer pay for my loan. do i have a case if i will they will demand for payment and other interests because of non payment or take my motorcycle?

  12. Daniel


    gusto ko lng pong humingi ng kalinawan kung ako po ba ay makukulong o ang banko po ay kukunin ang aming ariarian dhil sa late payment po ng bounse check. meron po akongndapat bayaran na 15000 pesos last friday subalit 10000 lng po ang naibayad ko at sinabi ko po n tomorrow ung remaining 5000 pesos which is naibigay ko namn. magkagayon paman magsasampa padin daw sila ng kaso ng bouncing check law dahil d po ako nkbyad sa takdang petsa.

  13. rez

    hi po..nung year 2013 po nagkaroon po ako ng utang na 10,000 sa 5-6 wal apo kaming legal contract basta verbal lang po ang pagkakautang ko sa kanya.every 2 months po tumutubo ang pera na inutang ko..pero nung year 2013 din po nawalan ako ng trabaho at 1800 lang po ang naihulog ko sa taong ito..hanggang ngayon po di parin ako nakakbayad at di na nakakapaghulog pa dahil sa sobbrang kulang naman po ang kinikita at isa pa di ko po alam kung paano ko mabayaran ang tumataas na tubo…sa huli ko pagkakaalam umabot nadaw pong 20k ang utang ko.this 2015 hindi ko po alam kung madadagdagan pa ito..ang isa pa pong masakit cinsiraan po ako nung pinagkakautangan ko pati na po yung nag gaurantor sa akin .sa fb acount ko po at maging sa buong brgy namin pinag uusapan na po ako.. ano po ba gagawin ko eh hindi ko naman po ginusto na di ko mabayaran kaso nahihirapan na po ako mag isip kung panu ko mbayaran lalo na ang tumataas na interest.. salamat po…

  14. Atif

    This is a helpful post. Most of the people having financial problems due to debt have this in mind. It is but normal though that thinking to be in prison due to debt is the thing that fears these clients because of these demands letters and harassment experienced. Consulting with a bankruptcy attorney will help them understand the process of how helpful it is to file a bankruptcy.

  15. Matilda

    what happens if i am not able to settle my account with Globe.
    I had the line cut to stop the amount due from increasing since last December from 12000 it went up to 32k even though line was already inactive.
    i made several calls to Globe to dispute some calls i didnt make and also to downgrade my plan which they failed to do so from the beginning.
    Some of the representatives even advised not to pay first until dispute was settled.
    I made payments but not every month.
    To make it short, Globe transferred me to a collecting agency and they started to harrass me by calling my house and telling me to pay as soon as possible to them up to 2 installments only as they called themselves attorneys.
    my question is- can i be jailed for not paying what I owe because i dont have the money and i also
    went to Globe business office to inform them about my situation and still they transferred my account to the legal.
    Pls reply asap thank you


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