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.

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

  1. Mae

    Goodd day po, I just really need an advice. Balik bayan po ako mula Taiwan. Nag loan po kami for placement fee sa isang lending company sa Malate. One year to pay po yung utang which is equivalent to 12 barcodes we need to pay in Taiwan. Kaya lang napauwi po maaga at 5 months lang po yung nabayaran ko so my remaining pa po na 7 barcodes. Pinuntahan ko po yung lending company before going home sa Davao para mapagusapan po kung papano at mgkano yung bayarin. Kaya lang yung collector di po ako binigyan ng exact amount rather tinakot pa po nya ako na malaki yung babayaran ko na penalty for 2 months missed payment. Sabi lang po nya around 70k kasi 10k plus daw po each barcode. We agreed to pay 5k monthly every 25th of the month. Nag pa unang bayad po ako 5k sa office nila December 2015. Pag uwi ko davao sinubokan po namin ng mama ko na bayaran January and February 2016 for 15k para po sana ma deduct yung penalty kasi advance yug payment. Kaya lang makulit po yung collector and want us to pay 35k remaining daw po, di na po daw xa magpepenalty sarado na daw po yun kaso gusto nya bayaran ko by February 29, pag di daw ako ng bayad may penalty na daw po yun. Di ko po xa maintindihan kasi wala na man po xang binigay na detalye kug makano nalang utang ko ..Walang.wala na po kaming pera ni mama. May maliit lang po kaming tindahan sa palengke na di naman po malaki yung kita. Kaya sabi ko po sa kanya na i.follow ko yung ano mang napagusapan namin sa office na 5k a month. Eh sabi nya magbayad daw po ako 15k this March 15, 2016 po..wala na po akong pera na ubos ko na rin kababayad yung nadala ko galing Taiwan. Pano po ba dapat ko pong gawin?

  2. mike

    Nag stop payment ang friend ko ng credit card debt 2 years ago because he could not afford to pay it anymore. He has no income.More than 10,000 ang utang nya. Is there a way na ma settle ito in a way na hindi sya mahihirapan ng pagbabayad on a monthly basis?He is willing to settle it in good faith.

  3. miclen

    I am a public school teacher and my net pay is 3000 a month. Please help me,I received a summoned from the barangay yesterday due to unpaid debts worth 14000 that i required last june 2014..but due to circumstances i wasn’t able to pay the full principal amount and the 20% per month interest. So i ask favor from the creditor that i will pay the principal amount through installment basis but she didnt agree to the condition that i ask so..last june2015 i ask her to accept my partial payment worth 1000 but she refuse it. then Last December 2015 she told me that she will accept now partial payment for the principal. So on that month i gave her 1000 after that I never followed payment due to my husband has been fired out on that month.then i told to the creditor about the situation..Then Last March 2016 my husband got a job then i ask her that i will pay 500 every payday because the salary of my husband is 6000 but she refuse again so she went to the baranggay ask complaint about my debt.. so what shall i do?we will meet this coming thursday Apr.07,2016..,….please give ma an really helps me a lot .

  4. Clarence

    Hi sir, gusto ko lang po sanang humingi ng advice. Ganito po kasi ngyari. Nakautang mama ko sa isang matanda last 1995, namatay din yung matanda in 1995. Unfortunately pati yung asawa ng matanda namatay na rin. Pero bago sya namatay, nabayaran na nya yung utang, buong buo. Ang last payment ng mama ko ay 35k. Kaso wala kming proof na nabayaran yung utang. Pero during that time, nakita ko na inabot ng mama ko ang bayad. I was 14-15 y/o during that time. Ang naging collateral ay bahay at lupa (hindi yung lupang kitatitirikan ng bahay namin). Ang mali ng mama ko, di sya humingi ng resibo or katibayan na binayaran ng buo.

    Eto ngyn ang problema, after so many years, hinahabol na ngyn ng mga anak nung matanda yung bayad ng mama ko, ang gusto nila bayaran sila ng outright 50k and 5k a month for 60 months, as kabayaran daw na kmi ay umuupa sa bahay.

    Yung tax declaration, without knowing, natrasfer na sa pangalan ng matanda nung 2014, pero this is without our consent, wala nga ring kming pirma doon, I don’t know kung paano nila natransfer yung pangalan ng ama nila.

    Gusto nilang mangyari ngyn magbayad na kmi ng 50k sa May 12, 2016 and mgbayad ng 5k every month.

    Please help sir. Thank you.

  5. Daniella

    My friend has accumulated debt amounting to almost 500,000 pesos, Im out of the country and he is in Singapore right now, is it possible to file a case against him?what case? I only have the list of his debts and some txt message as evidence… thank you


    GUD DAY..

  7. andi

    sadpreggy 🙁

    im also in the same situation,i am being harrassed by this credit company for installment payment basis for appliances.I am answering their calls and texts and also tring to explain my situation but still they are continously sending me harrassing texts regarding my payment.I am 7mts pregnant and im in a critical situation thats why i need to stop working. Can i file a case against them if something bad happened to me and my baby because of the stress that htey are causing? Please be advised,thanks.

  8. Marissa O.

    I do have a same case with greg, nung una nakakapagbayad ako tapos nagkaroon ako problema financial, pwd ba akong sabihan ng atty na ipapa warrant of arrest kita pag di ka nakapagbayad today, kasi tumatawag sila at sinasabihan ako magbayad ganitong araw kaso di ko natutupad kasi wala ako mahiraman nakikiusap ako kung pwd sa ganitong araw na lang , di sila pumapayag parateng panakot nila ififile na namin itong case at minsan pinatawag pa yung police na mag aarrest sa akin, tama po ba yun? nawawala din po rights namin, magbabayad naman pero di ganun kalaki, pwd po bang mag file sa bank ng bankrapcy at mag promise to pay unti unti matapos lang?

  9. anxiety

    same with greg;s problem, pero puwede rin po ba mag declare ng bankrapcy sa bank at mag promise bayaran yung loan unti unti, napunta na kasi sa atty account ko, ang hirp makipag usap sa secretary pa lang nila, nagdedemand ganitong araw magbayad at ganitong amount, di ka na nga makapag bayad sa collector ng bank tapos pinasa pa nila sa atty na mas lumaki, paano na po rights namin na gusto namin magbayd kaso ganun pa ginawa ng bank, ang law po bang ginawa ay favor lang sa bank paano naman po kami? di naman milyon ang nahiram, tama rin po ba na patawagin ng atty ang police sa bahay na nagsasabi na may complaint si atty na ipa arrest ako ganung di pa natatapos ang araw na magbabayd ako, tama po ba yung ipaarrest ako agad? di ko kasi alam ang mga procedures bakit ganun, subpoena kailan po ba ito pumapasok? nagkakaroon na ako ng anxiety at depression sa mga sinasabi ng secretary pa lang ng atty, mas matapang pa sa atty parang sa kanya ako may utang

  10. meng

    Hi po ask ko lng regarding my situation,im an ofw ,then may hiram po ako sa ksamhn ko,,but dn pauwi na xia sa pinas,i told het na sa sahod o nxthmonth ako mgbyd ipdala ko sa knya,5’6 lng po na utng yon wala pong mg documnt na pinepermhn..ngayon ayaw nya po pumyg,,tinatakot nya po akong iparepat at ipakulong..idamay po nya family ko at bf ko,,pingbantaan po ako..posible po ba yong mga pnakot nya sakin? Mgbyd nmn po ako,,dko po alam ang gagawin,,punthn nya dw bhay ko sa pinas kukunin mga gamit ,ano po pwede kung gawin?

  11. Richel

    Hi sir,

    Naguluhan na po ako sa problema ko, regarding sa motorcycle na inutang ko sa isang financing, the contract ends march 23, 2016, pero may 8 months pa akong hindi nabayaran plus penalty to sum up 25k+ lahat. Today ngbayad ako ng 5,ooo partial payment pero hindi nila tinanggap ,kasi gusto nila ipa deposit ang motor sa office nila. which is not ayoko pong mangyari and sabi pa nila na process na po ang docs for legal action kung hindi ko e deposit tomorrow ang motor.

    MAy question: Ano ho ang gagawin ko na hindi po maabot sa korte ang issue na to, kasi wla akong maka usap na iba ung isang tao lng na representative sa financing, pati ung branch manager hindi mkig usap sakin. I’ll pay my debt full within this month- staggard payments. Pero lage nilang reply sa korte nlng daw ako mg expalin..

    Thanks for your time reading on this.

    Salamat sa tulong..

  12. Mark

    Hi good day!
    Ask lng po ako, meron po akong credit card at meron akong plan sa globe, ung sa credit card ko eh 4 months ako nag babayad pero parang d bumababa ung payment ko lumalaki lng siya at d ko nlng binayaran hanggang ngaun. And sa globe plan ko namn e 1 month plng ung plan ko ung bill ko ang laki dn. E d ko na rn binayaran. Anu ang mangyayari sa akin? Mag file ba sila ng estafa sa akin? Makukulong ba ako? Pls response. Thank you

  13. Billy

    Can the company sue me for not finishing my contract? It is stipulated in my contract that I am liable to pay 50,000 if I don’t finish my contract. Hopefully you can help me thanks.

  14. Jimboy

    Hi ano po pwedi e kaso sa Hindi pagbabayad ng utang..wala pa kasing penirmahang mga ano ho ba ang dapat Kong gawin para mabalik sa akin yong inutang niya?
    Maari ho ba akong makipag-ugnayan sa mga barangay councils?
    Plz answer poh..

  15. RXT

    I have a debt abroad by using credit cards. Unfortunately, I lost my job there and now back here in Manila. Can they put me in prison for misfortune that happened to me by not paying them full amount of what I owe them from their credit cards.

    Best regards,


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