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.

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

  1. Ana

    Good day po hingi po sana ako sa opinion nyo maam/sir,
    Ano.po ba dapat namin gawin?
    Nanganak po ang aking kapatid last april,nabayaran na po namin ang hospital bill ng kapatid ko dahil hindi nila e discharge pag d kami nkabayad.kaso ang baby ay naiwan sa nicu dahil premature sya inoperahan nila dahil may barado daw sa bitoka. first attemp hindi tinapos dahil d daw.makayanan ng baby if ipagpatoloy,after 5days 2nd attemp ng operation pina bili pa kmi ng gamot pra daw maging stable ang pump ng heart upon operation.suddenly namatay ang baby after 2 days.hindi pa kmi ipalabas ng hospital until d daw namin ma settle ang bill namin na 309k wla po talaga kming ganong halaga dahil kakabayad a namin sa bill ng pag discharge ng nanay.we were being hold in the hospital for more than 4 until we ask help from our friend and she said mali daw yun may batas na bawal e hold ang pasyente lalot patay discharge kmi hindi namin nabayaran ang bill after 5 days na mailibing ang baby bumalik ang kapatid ko sa hospital pra humingi ng tolong pra sa pcso but they refuse to give us any docs and endorsement so wla na talaga kmi mapuntahan.until now hindi pa kami nkabayad dahil wla talaga kaming pera.they were threatening us na kakasohan daw kami ng estafa.makakasohan po ba kmi nyan if d kmi makabayad?we really done have money na ganun kalaki.sana po mabigyan nyo po ako ng advise kung ano po ba dapat namin gawin please po.salamat

  2. charmz

    Hi, my situation is i had a debt from a lending firm 5 years ago.. nabankrupt kasi ang company where i was working leaving me with 2,500 balance nlng sa loaned amount ko.. they didn’t try to contact me not even once to let me know that i have to settle my account.. after 5 years they called me and informed me that the total obligation reached to 17k na po and told me that if i pay it one time magiging 13k nlng. nalimutan ko talaga after how many years.. but it’s so unfair to my part na after 5 years na nla ako kinontak para lng dun.

  3. denz


    i stumbled upon this and i need advice. nagloan po ako thru online and due to some unfortunate incidents, i failed to pay in time and 2 months due na but still looking for funds para mabayaran sya. eto po concern ko, yung nagpapautang po is very rude, kahit anong ayos ng pakikipag usap sa kanya, he/she never failed na maging bastos, manlait and even threatened na di sila matataguan. I have made it clear na wala ako balak taguan sila and proof of that is my continuous na pagsagot sa messages nila kahit nakakaharrass na. they even post pictures of those di nakakabayad online. question, may kaso pede ba isampa sa kanila?

  4. Margie

    Ask ko lang po kung ano po pwede kong gawin? May mga tao po kasi na umutang samin ng cash dahil sa nangungupahan lang kami sa lugar na yun at yung mga taong iyon ay mga nakiusap at sa una ay naibabalik naman nila sa takdang araw na sinabi nilang mababayaran nila. Nung una okay pa po maayos silang kausap pero ng bandang huli na po nagkaroon na po ng pag-uusap at agreement sa barangay kung kelan nila mabibigay yung bayad sa hiniram nilang pera ang kaso po nagpabalik balik lang kami sa barangay hanggang sa umabot na po ng isang taon at ngayon po yung isang tao na nakautang samin na naka blotter sa barangay nabalitaan na lang namin na wala na po sila duon sabi ng kapit bahay nasa pangasinan na daw sila. ano po ba pwede naming gawin yung sa barangay po kasi nila ilang beses na po kami nagpabali balik at humihingi kami ng copy ng blotter dahil sa tagal at walang nagagawa ang barangay or sabihin na lang po nating hindi takot ang mga pina blotter namin na pwede namin silang sampahan ng kaso if ever na hindi nila kami mabayaran. nagpunta narin po ako sa prisinto na nakakasakop sa amin at humingi kami ng advice hinihingan nila kami ng copy ng blotter na hindi naman maibigay samin ng chairman ng nasabing lugar parati na lang sinasabi na padadalhan ng sulat ang mga taong iyon para kausapin sila at tatawagan na lang kami kung sakali hindi parin sila tumupad sa pangako na babayaran ang utang or ang napagkasunduan sa blotter. Meron din po akong promisorry note na may pirma ng isang may utang sa amin pwede ko po bang gamitin yun at iyon na lang po ipapakita sa prisinto? Paano po yung may utang sa amin na nasa pangasinan na daw mahahabol pa po ba namin yun willing po ako pumunta sa pangasin kung kinakailangan ang halang inutang nila ay hindi ko pinulot lamang pinaghirapan ko po yun. Salamat po

  5. sarah

    Hi atty gud pm ,ask lang sana ako sa problema ko tungkol sa na issue ko na checke ang nangyari kasi attorney nakahiram ako ng pera na 60k para ibayad sa lending at maka renew ako ang nangyari hindi ako na releasan tapos ang sinabi sa akin ng may ari kailangan ko daw bayaran ang pera na maging 80k ang mag issue ako ng check kahit alam nila na close na yong account ko ang nangyari ngayon nkabayad na ako ng 44k sa may ari ng pera pero ang gusto nila tubuan na naman ng 20% yong balance ko at pag hindi ko daw gagawin yon ideposit nila yong checke kahit na alam nila na closed account na po ang tanong ko atty maka issue ba agad sila ng warrant of arrest dahil sa check na nag bounce or my mga process pa na daanan sana matulungan po ninyo ako parang awa po ninyo . sarah

  6. Louise

    Hi po ask ko lng po kc ang mama ko mag tumtwag po sa kanya na tiantakot po cya na iappadeport daw po cya at ipapa hold sa immgration pag uwi nya po.,kc my lian po mama ko sa banko bale checking account daw po un.ask ko lng po puwede po ba cya ipadepiry dahil dun po salamat po natatakot po kc para sa kanya

  7. Louise

    Hi po attorney ask ko din po kc sabi po ng agent na taga law firm po is papacancel din daw po ang passport ng mama ko totoo po ba un..makukulong mama ko oag uwi kc sabi sa immgration pkng daw po huhulihin na daw po cya ng pulis or sa abroad po ipapahuli daw po cya sa pulis..totoo po ba yan lahat attorney kc natatakot mama ko po..salamat po

  8. JJVVer

    I have a question. I’ve been informing by my debtor to file a case against me even if I am still paying my loan. Although not able to pay the exact amount as stated in the contract but I am continuously paying an amount until I able to pay in full. Although, penalties and charges are huge amount, but my point is I would like to prove that I am still willing to pay and there are active payments in my loan account.

    Can debtor still file a case against me? Please let me know my rights.

    Thank you in advance.


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