Neither estafa nor qualified theft (2)

In Balerta v. People, the Court found that juridical possession as an element of the crime of estafa by misappropriation was not present because the accused was a cash custodian with no independent right or title to the funds received.

In the case at bench, there is no question that the petitioner was handling the funds lent by Care Philippines to BABMPC. However, she held the funds on behalf of BABMPC.

She had mere physical or material possession over the funds but held no independent right or title, which she could set up against BARMPC. The petitioner was nothing more than a mere cash custodian. Hence, the Court finds that juridical possession of the funds as an element of the crime of estafa by misappropriation is absent in the instant case.

In Reside v. People, the Court came to a similar conclusion and held that the accused, a school principal tasked to receive tuition fees and forward these to the school, did not have juridical possession over the funds received.

In the case at bench, it cannot be gainsaid that the petitioner, in addition to her duties as principal, was authorized to receive or collect matriculation fees from the parents and/or students enrolled in TGWSI.

Per a verbal agreement with De Dios, the petitioner shall forward all payments received together with the remittance voucher slips to the school. As it happens, the money merely passes into the petitioner’s hands, and her custody is only until the same is remitted to the school. Consequently, as principal and temporary cash custodian of TGWSI, the petitioner acquires only physical or material possession over the unremitted funds. Thus, being a mere custodian of the unremitted tuition fees and not, in any manner, an agent who could have asserted a right against TGWSI over the same, the petitioner had only acquired material and not juridical possession of such funds and, consequently, cannot be convicted of the crime of estafa as charged.

The prosecution alleged that petitioner Medina was responsible for collecting remittances from the Department of Education, accepting premium payments from PPSTA members, and depositing these payments in PPSTA’s bank account, as instructed by the PPSTA Treasurer. The record is bereft of any allegation or proof that petitioner Medina had any independent right or title to these funds that she could set up against PPSTA.

Contrary to the findings of the CA, petitioner Medina was not a “trustee” of the PPSTA members’ payments, as she received these sums as an employee of, and on behalf of, her employer. Consequently, petitioner Medina only had material and not juridical possession of these funds, and she cannot be convicted for estafa under Article 315 (b) (l) of the Revised Penal Code or RPC.

Second, jurisprudence holds that a conviction for simple or qualified theft (in lieu of estafa) is possible if all the elements of theft are alleged in the information. However, the evidence on record needs to be more sufficient to convict petitioner Medina of theft, whether simple or qualified.

Simple theft is committed when the following elements concur: (1) taking of personal property; (2) that the said property belongs to another; (3) that the said taking be done with intent to gain; (4) that it be done without the owner’s consent; (5) that it be accomplished without the use of violence or intimidation against persons, nor of force upon things; and (6) that it be done with grave abuse of confidence.

Theft becomes qualified when committed with grave abuse of confidence, among other qualifying circumstances enumerated in Article 310 of RPC.

(To be continued)

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