Article 315, par. 2(a) of the Revised Penal Code penalizes fraud or deceit when committed as follows:
x x x x
2. by means of any of the following false pretenses or fraudulent acts executed prior to or simultaneously with the commission of fraud:
(a) by using fictitious name, or actions, falsely pretending to possess power, influence, qualification, property, credit, agency, business or imaginary transactions, or by means of other similar deceits.
“The elements of the crime of estafa under the foregoing provision are: (1) there must be a false pretense, fraudulent acts or fraudulent means; (2) such false pretense, fraudulent act or fraudulent means must be made or executed prior to or simultaneously with the commission of the fraud; (3) the offended party must have relied on the false pretense, fraudulent act or fraudulent means and was thus induced to part with his money or property; and (4) as a result thereof, the offended party suffered damage.”
Petitioners presented themselves toLourdesas persons possessing the authority and capacity to engage in the financing of used vehicles in behalf of Final Access Marketing. This was a clear misrepresentation considering their previous knowledge not only of Erlinda’s complaint but also of several others as regards the failure of Final Access Marketing to deliver the motor vehicles bought. Lourdesrelied on their misrepresentations and parted with her money. Almost a week passed by, but petitioners and Rule did not deliver the said motor vehicle. They also did not fulfill their subsequent promise to provide a replacement or to refund her payment. WhenLourdesvisited the office of Final Access Marketing to demand the return of her money, it was already closed. She could not locate any of them except for Franco who denied any wrongdoing. Consequently, she suffered damage.
If indeed they were innocent as they claimed to be, Erlinda’s complaint to petitioners and the 12 other similar complaints with “Hoy Gising” regarding undelivered vehicles should have dissuaded petitioners from further soliciting customers. The fact that they continued to offer for sale a second-hand car to Lourdes is indicative of deceit and their complicity in the conspiracy to commit estafa. The manner in which petitioners transacted business with Erlinda and Lourdes as well as their awareness of 12 other similar complaints with “Hoy Gising” were sufficient to establish the existence of a modus operandi.
Franco’s attempt to escape culpability by feigning ignorance of the previously failed transactions on the delivery of vehicles by Final Access Marketing cannot be countenanced. As gleaned from the testimony of Erlinda, Franco was already with Final Access Marketing at the time these transactions occurred. She was therefore familiar with the company’s procedure and policy on the sales of second-hand vehicles. She even accompaniedLourdesto showrooms and introduced her to Besario and Rule.
As an employee of Final Access Marketing, Franco was expected to be familiar with its daily activities. It would be unworthy of belief that she did not know of the complaints for the unexplained failure of Final Access Marketing to deliver vehicles to its customers. Human nature and experience would compel her to make queries on her own to discover the reasons for the non-delivery of the vehicles. Her continued insistence in solicitingLourdesas a client by introducing herself as an Assistant Administrative Coordinator of Final Access Marketing with the ability to provide financing for a vehicle of her choice is therefore indicative of fraudulent misrepresentation.
The petitioners also contend that they are not criminally liable since the transaction withLourdeswas a contract of sale. This contention does not deserve serious consideration. While the fact that they entered into a contract withLourdescannot be denied, the transaction transpired due to their deceit. It was their misrepresentation that inducedLourdesto sign the Sales Proposal agreement and part with her money.
In denying any criminal wrongdoing, petitioners blame their co-accused, Torres, whom they claim to be the owner of Final Access Marketing. The shifting of blame is common among conspirators in their attempt to escape liability. It is a desperate strategy to compensate for their weak defense. We are not readily influenced by such a proposition since its “obvious motive is to distort the truth and frustrate the ends of justice.”
Having committed the crime of estafa, the petitioners must suffer the proper penalties provided by law. The law imposes the penalty of prision correccional in its maximum period to prision mayor in its minimum period if the amount is over P12,000.00 but does not exceed P22,000.00. If the amount swindled exceeds P22,000.00, the penalty shall be imposed in its maximum period, adding one year for each additional P10,000.00, but the total penalty which may be imposed shall not exceed 20 years. To determine the minimum of the indeterminate penalty, prision correccional in its maximum period to prision mayor in its minimum period shall be reduced by one degree, that is, to prision correccional in its minimum and medium periods. The minimum period of the indeterminate penalty shall be taken from the full range of the penalty of prision correccional in its minimum and medium periods, which is six (6) months and one (1) day to four (4) years and two (2) months. With the amount of the fraud at P80,000.00, there is P58,000.00 in excess of P22,000.00. Five years must therefore be added to the maximum period of the prescribed penalty ranging from six (6) years, eight (8) months and twenty-one (21) days to eight (8) years. Thus, the maximum term of the penalty would range from eleven (11) years, eight (8) months and twenty-one (21) days to thirteen (13) years. This is in accord with our ruling in People v. Temparada, viz:
The prescribed penalty for estafa under Article 315, par. 2(d) of the RPC, when the amount defrauded exceeds P22,000.00, is prision correccional maximum to prision mayor minimum. The minimum term is taken from the penalty next lower or anywhere within prision correccional minimum and medium (i.e. from 6 months and 1 day to 4 years and 2 months). Consequently, the RTC correctly fixed the minimum term for the five estafa cases at 4 years and 2 months of prision correccional since this is within the range of prision correccional minimum and medium.
On the other hand, the maximum term is taken from the prescribed penalty of prision correccional maximum to prision mayor minimum in its maximum period, adding 1 year of imprisonment for every P10,000.00 in excess of P22,000.00, provided that the total penalty shall not exceed 20 years. However, the maximum period of the prescribed penalty of prision correccional maximum to prision mayor minimum is not prision mayor minimum as apparently assumed by the RTC. To compute the maximum period of the prescribed penalty, prision correccional maximum to prision mayor minimum should be divided into three equal portions of time each of which portion shall be deemed to form one period in accordance with Article 65 of the RPC. Following this procedure, the maximum period of prision correccional maximum to prision mayor minimum is from 6 years, 8 months and 21 days to 8 years. The incremental penalty, when proper, shall thus be added to anywhere from 6 years, 8 months and 21 days to 8 years, at the discretion of the court.
In computing the incremental penalty, the amount defrauded shall be subtracted by P22,000.00, and the difference shall be divided by P10,000.00. Any fraction of a year shall be discarded as was done starting with the case of People v. Pabalan in consonance with the settled rule that penal laws shall be construed liberally in favor of the accused. x x x.
WHEREFORE, the petitions for review on certiorari are DENIED. The Decision of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. CR No. 27414 which affirmed with modification the Decision of the Regional Trial Court, Branch 52, in Criminal Case No. 99-173688 convicting petitioners Lyzah Sy Franco and Steve Besario of the crime of estafa is AFFIRMED with further modification that the indeterminate prison term imposed on each of the petitioners is four (4) years and two (2) months of prision correccional as minimum to thirteen (13) years of reclusion temporal as maximum.