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.

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

  1. Grace

    Hi good morning. I need help badly! Please…
    Id like to ask for help. I am renting an apartment in pasig city. Since november 8 until december 8 i failed to pay my monthly rent. My monthly rental is 15,000, now i owe her 30,000 pesos already. My landlord say that she will sue me on failure on paying my rent. I have a 2 momth deposit to that apartment. I ask for her consideration but she dont want to accept. I have some financial issues last month. Please help me. I need your advice. Thank you!

  2. Grace

    Hi good morning Atty,
    Id like to ask for help. I am renting an apartment in pasig city. Since november 8 until december 8 i failed to pay my monthly rent. My monthly rental is 15,000, now i owe her 30,000 pesos already. My landlord say that she will sue me on failure on paying my rent. I have a 2 momth deposit to that apartment. I ask for her consideration but she dont want to accept. I have some financial issues last month. Please help me. I need your advice. Thank you!

  3. han


    Tatanong ko lang po sana kung ano po ang dapat kong gawin . Ang problema ko po kasi 9 months na hindi kami nakpag bayad ng hulogan tapos ngayon lang kami ulet nakpg bayad. Kapag po ba nasa legal department na yung case namin tama po ba na magpatong pa sila ng 25% sa kabuuong balanse namin. Plus disxlosure fee of 2500.?. Ano po bang ang pwdeng gawin namin.salamat po

  4. Marga

    Good day,

    Im an ofw here in Singapore. My friend owe me 80k+ and since im planning to settle for good in Philippines im asking my friend to pay me back even in installment. But she keep ignoring me. Its been more than a year and of course i didnt work abroad for nothing. I kept the remittance receipt under her name as a proof.
    I just want to know if there is a legal action I can do. Your reply is much appreciated. Thanks for the help.

  5. Jun

    Good Day!
    I have been a victim of investment scam in Naga City wherein I borrowed a money from my 4 credit cards with total of 400,000. These banks already called me since I can’t no longer pay my debt and are already 3 mos. due. I applied for loan from 3 banks (Metrobank, Citibank,Eastwestbank) and made another cash advance withdrawal from my another eastwestbank credit card amounting to 69,000. I was attracted by its offers which only charge .99% interest per month.

    I made a loan from these banks and invested the money to a certain person with a return of investment of 6% per month. After few months, they stopped their operation leaving me in debt. Those banks already filed for default and obliging me to pay now in full those money i have borrowed.

    I have no money to pay them. I’m afraid they might file a lawsuit against me. What charges they might file against me?

    I’m earning 10,400 a month with my present job. My wife is about to give birth to my child. How am i going to pay them? Will i go to jail because of this? What will happen to me? I can’t afford to pay for attorney’s fee.

    Please reply to my email sir.



  6. RC

    Sir/Ma’am ask ko lang po.
    meron po kasi akong naging utang sa isang bangko, at first ok naman ang payment ko kasi ok naman yung work ko. but then di ako nakapagbayad kasi nawalan ako ng work.
    Months later, na turn over na yung credit ko sa isang kompanya na naniningil.
    tumupad naman ako sa naging usapan namin at sa amount ng ibabayad ko..
    ang huling update sa naging utang ko is 67k plus galing sa bangko mismo.
    ang naging usapan namin ng kompanya na naniningil ay magdedeposit ako ng 20k and monthly ko ay 7,017 for 1 year.
    nagawa ko naman po na magbayad bwan bwan kasi nagkaroon na ako ulit ng trabaho.
    tapos meron po naging pangyayri na na delayed po ako ng isang buwan, pero nakumpleto ko naman po yung 12 mos na payment.
    ayaw magbigay ng certificate kasi daw po kulang pa po yung bayad ko..
    binigay ko na yung copy ng mga reciept para mareview nila, pero ni insist nila na meron pa po akong utang kahit alam nila na natupad ko naman yung naging usapan na 12 mos..
    Ngayun sinisinhgil ako at ipapabarangay ako, ipapahiya din daw ang misis ko na wala namang alam tungkol sa utang na yun kasi di pa kami magasawa that time..

    Anu po ba ang maipapayo nyo..

  7. mhie

    Good day po, i have 500k debt.Sinulatan at tnatawagan ako sa ulat po i file na po nila ng criminal case. HIndi ko na po kaya bayaran..nakiusap ako sa bank na kaya ko lang to pay every month is 2k to 3k..single mother po ako at ulilang lubos na..lahat ng paliwanag ko they neglect it..lahat po ng pakiusap ko balewala sa knla..until naka recieved nga po ako ng letter at i file na nila as criminal case..natatakot po ako sa mangyayari saken..hindi ko nman po tatakbuhan ang utang ko..baon lang din ako sa opisina at yan lang ang kaya ko muna bayaran sa knila pero matapang at masasakit na salita naririnig ko sa knla..ano po ba ang dapat kong gawin..sana po matulungan nyo ako.hindi ako maka concentrate sa work at bka matanggal pa ako sa trabaho sa kkatwag at paninira nila saken.trabaho ko ang inaasahan kong ibuhay sa anak ko..please po payuhan nyo po ako.

    salamat po

  8. Mitch

    Hi Sir,

    I Have a question po regarding sa isang guarantor. I have a friend po na nag borrow ng 10K sa 5-6 and sinurender niya po yung atm niya and as a friend ako po yung nag guarantor sa hiniram niya na pera. unfortunately po hindi po nakabayad yung friend ko and what i idid po nakipag usap ako sa hiniraman niya na willing to pay naman po ako which i even signed a promissory note stating that as a guarantor I’m willing to pay the half of the money last dec 23, 2015 which I did pay . ngayun po pina barangay ako at tinakot po ako na sasaktan ako at kukuhaan ng mga gamit sa bahay at wala na daw po hearing sa barangay kase po yung chairwoman namin yung nag finance dun sa pautang at kapatid daw po siya ni CONGRESSMAN ATONG ASILO ng district 1 ng tondo kaya wala na daw po hearing sa barangay. Puwede po ba yung ginagawa nila saken ni hindi po nila saken pinabasa yung complain sa ginawa sa barangay? and they said estafa daw po yung case and deceiving kse wala daw po laman yung atm kahit po sinabi ko na hindi po sakin yung atm. sobra nag worry po ako they are using the congressman name in order for me to pay the other half and even drag me and my family in scandal. please help me I’m so worried

  9. Kat brother lends money from a lending office last 2010 and I am the guarantor,he was able to loan money 30,000 and issued 6 post dates checks..the last 2 checks we’re not able to be bounced..we didn’t know if they file a case against us?do we have a case even we are not being noticed?or can we get NBI clearance without any problem?

  10. avelaine

    Can you please give an advice regarding unpaid credit card dues.
    My last payment was 10months ago and I have not given any follow up payment. The third party of the bank is calling and texting me regarding my dues. Some calls I have entertained and some have not. My work requires full attention and if I may say is loaded. I have tried returning their call lately as I wanted to settle this already but wanted to pay only what is due and not with correaponding of interests. Yet now, I have received threats that I will be escorted from my work office by policemen or whatsoever and is requesting for me to file for temporary restraining order.
    What shall I do with this? What shall my actions be?
    If you could please reply as soon as posible, as I may think this matter is very urgent.

    Please be informed that I cannot open my yahoo mail and have no other email address. I just wanted an answer to my concern.

    1. Mikee

      Hi Avelaine,

      We have exactly the same problem. I asked for arrangement given my current situation but they neglected. If you can let me know what advice you get about this concern will be really helpful.

      Thank you and I hope everything will be settled.


  11. Maricel

    Good day po. isa po ako Ofw. ng kautang po ako sa lending cimpany ng 100k s pg dating po dto s taiwan..nt dollar n po ang bayad..14code po ung papers n bbyaran..ang nbyaran ku lng po ei 4barcode lng.kc po minalas po ako.2012 ku p po utang un..nung mkpg usap po ku s lending nung 2013 umbot n po ng 140k ..tas gusto gusto ku byaran.kya lng paanu.sobrang laki na.hangang s ngaun umabot n mg 270k..anu po kya dapat kung gwin paraan pra masulussyunan ky po eto problema ndi ku ginusto mangyare..salamat poh..

  12. Mikee


    I hope you can answer my question, I do understand that no one can be imprisoned for non payment of debt but I would like to seek an advice about how I should handle my situation.

    I have a loan for a samsung s6 edge and it was very unfortunate that I lost my job and wasnt able to pay the loan (current debt is 27k), I signed a letter before that i will pay on a certain date, I did pay but it wasn’t for the full amount. Now someone talked to me and said I have a warrant because of that. Prior to that call, I already asked the company asking for arrangement given my current financial situation but they did not acknowledge. Now the lawyer sent me an email stating that I need to pay the full amount of 2k until feb 29th otherwise, I will be arrested.

    Hope to hear from you.

  13. aaronbadz

    Good day, I recently got a smart postpaid plan. I used my credit card to pay the initial payment (already paid) and i did not opt to have the auto debit from my card. Now i have stopped paying my bills due to slow connection speeds as they have promised. Now i am being texted and receiving mail demanding me to pay with threats from a certain law office. Can you tell me my options?

  14. Jadee

    Hi ,

    Please advice on this. I borrowed money online. The 2nd time I borrowed I lost my job and wasn’t able to pay my debt. There was a letter sent notifying that they will file case to the court.

    Until now I don’t know how to pay them.

    Please advice .

    Thank you!


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