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.

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

  1. kash

    I think that the weight of loans including cash loans, and salary loans depends on the customers capability to pay it back when and how.

  2. kash

    we all agree to the idea that our country is not a rich country. In fact the people living in it are not even satisfied in just having a home and a job because the salary is not enough to raise a family at it’s best. As a result of this, there are a lot of emerging companies and establishments which offer Cash loans and other personal loans. Some says it just brings you down even more as it turns into debt but some says it is a last resort when it comes to difficult times.

  3. AnnP

    Sir pls help, I wasnt able to pay may PS BANk flexi loan for almost 3 yrs.
    and now im so shocked to receive a letter informing that my outstanding balance is almost 110k
    frm the orginal 40k..Will I be sued for this? Help

      1. Ms. LLL

        Hi? what happend to your case then? same here? What did you experience during the years? Are you receiving aso demand letters?

  4. Cecil

    Hi! My daughter is studying in San Beda and I got a letter from the school after a year that my daughter has Failed subjects, I talked and clarified the issue to Vice-Dean and it turned out that the said Prof. gave a failed grade due to absences. My daughter got sick and need to be confined due to Chikungunya that’s why she has consumed allotted absences, she submitted her med. cert upon returning to class but the Prof shrugged it off. She continued going to class even took and passed Final exam and has grade of 2.5 to which the Prof didn’t put it into a record. Upon confirmation the Vice Dean and Prof. agreed and assured me that the said grade will be given to my daughter and advised us to drop the same class which my daughter re-enrolled thinking she was failed.

    The tuition fee for the re-enrolled subject were not refunded to us it’s in their school rule that a dropped class is not entitled to refund, even if it’s not our fault but their Professor. Albeit, we didn’t argue since it has been taking much of our time going back and forth to school and we valued their decision to give my daughter her 2.5 grade. However, until today (July 3, 2015) a year ago the said grade still not in effect.

    Do we have a case here? I am really pissed with San Beda Alabang. Also, what can you say about “Notice” of payment, I got a letter of payment advice from them yesterday and need to pay the “Special Class Internship” in full tomorrow. Is Internship not included in the Curriculum and total computation of Tuition fee?

  5. iveyah

    Hello po, tanong ko lang po sana kasi nagdealer po ako ng good from an apparel outlet for more than a year nagdealer ako ..kaso last Feb..di na ako nkabyad ng balance ko worth 5,000 kasi nagkaemergency sa bahay at madami rin Hindi nakabayad nahirapan po ako magbyad kasi kinakapos lagi salary ko..worried po ako kasi tenetext nila ako lagi na forward ha daw sa atty case ko..ano po ba maaring ifile skin..sana po matulungan nyo ako through advices po..thanks

  6. Jun

    What are the immediate remedies that I can avail of to collect from several debtors who owe our family in amounts ranging from 100K to 400K? After several demands in almost a year, the debtors have not even paid us a single cent.

  7. vevs

    I remember ndi ko po nasundo mg bayad ung inutang kong motor. Mga 1 -3 mos lng nman po kasi po dumating sa time na nadepress ako at ngbakasyon ako abroad. Pwede ba ako makasuhan?2011 pa po nung huli ako mgbayad. Nawala n rn ung ibang recibo ko. Mkakasuhan kaya po ako. As im nakalimutan ko na po talaga. Wala po ako natanggap na sulat or kahit e im pound nla ung motor so I assume na.ok na po. Pwede kaya ako kasuhan!?

  8. teddy

    Sir/ Madam , ask lang po advice . two years to pay yung motor na nakuha ng buyer . unpaid balanced ko 4 months pero yung interest lumaki na. dahilan si mrs nagkasakit ng brain cancer at nag maitain aq ng gamot sa knya pero sawiang palad namatay po yung mrs ko may 31 2015. nakapangalan sa kanya yung unit ng motor . aq yung husband na namtayan kinulit aq at hinaharass araw araw ng legal officer nila …before tumatawag aq para i settle laht kaso di ko macontact sa fil progress head office nila.. at sabi nila di raw aq nagppakita at minsan sa text msg.. ano kya magnda gawin …

  9. Dee

    What if i have a loan just worth of 15k or 20k i dont remember anymore,. Because ita way back 2015.. i loaned money to a person in exchange of my atm where my salary goes through.. i was able to pay some of it but i when i was terminated i had a balance still of 10k i think.. i wasnt able to pay it.. few years passed already. When i came back from dubai because i got pregnant she suddenly decided to ask the money back from me.. as far as i remembered i didnt sign anything.. but im not sure.. is there a case after all this years? Or what will happen? Or can she file a case on me?

  10. maduching

    hi meron po akong loan na 40k maayos akong kinakaltasan sa atm payroll ko tapos 1 day hindi na nla winiwidraw ang payment ko, naghintay ako ng 1 week at asa account ko pa din ang pera nachechek ko ito gmit ang online service, dahil dun natigil na ang paghuhulog ko sa twing d nla knkha ang pera ako na ang ngwwdraw nito gmit ang transfer of money, bgla silang ngpadala ng sulat na d na daw ako ngbabayad ang snsingil nila ko kailangan ko daw bayaran ang buong halaga sa luob ng 5 araw kng hindi ay idedemanda nila ako, ngpnta ang co-maker ko sa opisina nila para mgupdate ng account at nag sagot sknia ay wala na ang taong me hawak ng files namin. anu po ang dapat kong gawin?

  11. joien

    Hi. I really need HELP. My father borrowed a money from a certain bank last 1999. A year after, were halfway of our debt (leaving our balance 5k) the bank declared its bankruptcy, thus it closes & we were not informed where to pay forward our debts.
    Just recently my papa was called in the barangay council, since the manager of the new bank who took over the bank (creditor) ask us to pay them together with the interest & other fees, costing all in all 28k.
    Note..we did not receive any notifications from them.
    What bothers me… Is this possible or is it legal. Please reply we were set to settle it this month

  12. Trish

    Hi i just want to make some consultations, i received a summon or letter from court regarding the debt that i was not able to pay amounting to 20,000+6000 interest. What are thebthings that i need to consider? Be waiting for your reply.. thanks.

  13. John

    what if they ammend this law that all persons shall be imprisoned by Debt & Non-payment of poll Tax, what will be happen? Is there will be advantages of this?

  14. Kc

    Isa po akong OFW sa saudi na nawalang ng trabaho, nakapagexit po ako sa saudi ngunit may naiwan po ako loan sa banko at credit card,. ngayon po afte 1 year may collection agency na pilit pinababayad utang sa amin, since nawalang po ako ng trabaho at wala na kakayanan magbayad ng utang. mayroon po ba kaso pwede isampa sa aking ng collection agency sa pinas.

    ano po ang pinaka maganda dapat gawin salamat po


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *