"x x x.
Illegal recruitment in large scale
Ocden contends that the prosecution failed to prove beyond reasonable doubt that she is guilty of the crime of illegal recruitment in large scale. Other than the bare allegations of the prosecution witnesses, no evidence was adduced to prove that she was a non-licensee or non-holder of authority to lawfully engage in the recruitment and placement of workers. No certification attesting to this fact was formally offered in evidence by the prosecution.
Ocden’s aforementioned contentions are without merit.
(b) “Recruitment and placement” refers to any act of canvassing, enlisting, contracting, transporting, utilizing, hiring, or procuring workers, and includes referrals, contract services, promising for advertising for employment locally or abroad, whether for profit or not: Provided, That any person or entity which, in any manner, offers or promises for a fee employment to two or more persons shall be deemed engaged in recruitment and placement.
The amendments to the Labor Code introduced by Republic Act No. 8042, otherwise known as the Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos Act of 1995, broadened the concept of illegal recruitment and provided stiffer penalties, especially for those that constitute economic sabotage, i.e., illegal recruitment in large scale and illegal recruitment committed by a syndicate. Pertinent provisions of Republic Act No. 8042 are reproduced below:
SEC. 6. Definition. - For purposes of this Act, illegal recruitment shall mean any act of canvassing, enlisting, contracting, transporting, utilizing, hiring, or procuring workers and includes referring, contract services, promising or advertising for employment abroad, whether for profit or not, when undertaken by a non-licensee or non-holder of authority contemplated under Article 13(f) of Presidential Decree No. 442, as amended, otherwise known as the Labor Code of the Philippines: Provided, That any such non-licensee or non-holder who, in any manner, offers or promises for a fee employment abroad to two or more persons shall be deemed so engaged. It shall likewise include the following acts, whether committed by any person, whether a non-licensee, non-holder, licensee or holder of authority:
(a) To charge or accept directly or indirectly any amount greater than that specified in the schedule of allowable fees prescribed by the Secretary of Labor and Employment, or to make a worker pay any amount greater than that actually received by him as a loan or advance;
(b) To furnish or publish any false notice or information or document in relation to recruitment or employment;
(c) To give any false notice, testimony, information or document or commit any act of misrepresentation for the purpose of securing a license or authority under the Labor Code;
(d) To induce or attempt to induce a worker already employed to quit his employment in order to offer him another unless the transfer is designed to liberate a worker from oppressive terms and conditions of employment;
(e) To influence or attempt to influence any person or entity not to employ any worker who has not applied for employment through his agency;
(f) To engage in the recruitment or placement of workers in jobs harmful to public health or morality or to the dignity of the Republic of the Philippines;
(g) To obstruct or attempt to obstruct inspection by the Secretary of Labor and Employment or by his duly authorized representative;
(h) To fail to submit reports on the status of employment, placement vacancies, remittance of foreign exchange earnings, separation from jobs, departures and such other matters or information as may be required by the Secretary of Labor and Employment;
(i) To substitute or alter to the prejudice of the worker, employment contracts approved and verified by the Department of Labor and Employment from the time of actual signing thereof by the parties up to and including the period of the expiration of the same without the approval of the Department of Labor and Employment;
(j) For an officer or agent of a recruitment or placement agency to become an officer or member of the Board of any corporation engaged in travel agency or to be engaged directly or indirectly in the management of a travel agency;
(k) To withhold or deny travel documents from applicant workers before departure for monetary or financial considerations other than those authorized under the Labor Code and its implementing rules and regulations;
(l) Failure to actually deploy without valid reason as determined by the Department of Labor and Employment; and
(m) Failure to reimburse expenses incurred by the worker in connection with his documentation and processing for purposes of deployment, in cases where the deployment does not actually take place without the worker's fault. Illegal recruitment when committed by a syndicate or in large scale shall be considered an offense involving economic sabotage.
Illegal recruitment is deemed committed by a syndicate if carried out by a group of three (3) or more persons conspiring or confederating with one another. It is deemed committed in large scale if committed against three (3) or more persons individually or as a group.
x x x x
Sec. 7. Penalties. –
(a) Any person found guilty of illegal recruitment shall suffer the penalty of imprisonment of not less than six (6) years and one (1) day but not more than twelve (12) years and a fine of Two hundred thousand pesos (
P200,000.00) nor more than Five hundred thousand pesos ( P500,000.00).
(b) The penalty of life imprisonment and a fine of not less than Five hundred thousand pesos (
P500,000.00) nor more than One million pesos ( P1,000,000.00) shall be imposed if illegal recruitment constitutes economic sabotage as defined herein.
Provided, however, That the maximum penalty shall be imposed if the person illegally recruited is less than eighteen (18) years of age or committed by a non-licensee or non-holder of authority. (Emphasis ours.)
It is well-settled that to prove illegal recruitment, it must be shown that appellant gave complainants the distinct impression that he had the power or ability to send complainants abroad for work such that the latter were convinced to part with their money in order to be employed. As testified to by Mana-a, Ferrer, and Golidan, Ocden gave such an impression through the following acts: (1) Ocden informed Mana-a, Ferrer, and Golidan about the job opportunity in Italy and the list of necessary requirements for application; (2) Ocden required Mana-a, Ferrer, and Golidan’s sons, Jeffries and Howard, to attend the seminar conducted by Ramos at Ocden’s house in Baguio City; (3) Ocden received the job applications, pictures, bio-data, passports, and the certificates of previous employment (which was also issued by Ocden upon payment of
P500.00), of Mana-a, Ferrer, and Golidan’s sons, Jeffries and Howard; (4) Ocden personally accompanied Mana-a, Ferrer, and Golidan’s sons, Jeffries and Howard, for their medical examinations in Manila; (5) Ocden received money paid as placement fees by Mana-a, Ferrer, and Golidan’s sons, Jeffries and Howard, and even issued receipts for the same; and (6) Ocden assured Mana-a, Ferrer, and Golidan’s sons, Jeffries and Howard, that they would be deployed to Italy.
It is not necessary for the prosecution to present a certification that Ocden is a non-licensee or non-holder of authority to lawfully engage in the recruitment and placement of workers. Section 6 of Republic Act No. 8042 enumerates particular acts which would constitute illegal recruitment “whether committed by any person, whether a non-licensee, non-holder, licensee or holder of authority.” Among such acts, under Section 6(m) of Republic Act No. 8042, is the “[f]ailure to reimburse expenses incurred by the worker in connection with his documentation and processing for purposes of deployment, in cases where the deployment does not actually take place without the worker’s fault.”
Since illegal recruitment under Section 6(m) can be committed by any person, even by a licensed recruiter, a certification on whether Ocden had a license to recruit or not, is inconsequential. Ocden committed illegal recruitment as described in said provision by receiving placement fees from Mana-a, Ferrer, and Golidan’s two sons, Jeffries and Howard, evidenced by receipts Ocden herself issued; and failing to reimburse/refund to Mana-a, Ferrer, and Golidan’s two sons the amounts they had paid when they were not able to leave for Italy, through no fault of their own.
Ocden questions why it was Golidan who testified for private complainants Jeffries and Howard. Golidan had no personal knowledge of the circumstances proving illegal recruitment and could not have testified on the same. Also, Jeffries and Howard already executed an affidavit of desistance. All Golidan wants was a reimbursement of the placement fees paid.
Contrary to Ocden’s claims, Golidan had personal knowledge of Ocden’s illegal recruitment activities, which she could competently testify to. Golidan herself had personal dealings with Ocden as Golidan assisted her sons, Jeffries and Howard, in completing the requirements for their overseas job applications, and later on, in getting back home from Zamboanga where Jeffries and Howard were stranded, and in demanding a refund from Ocden of the placement fees paid. That Golidan is seeking a reimbursement of the placement fees paid for the failed deployment of her sons Jeffries and Howard strengthens, rather than weakens, the prosecution’s case. Going back to illegal recruitment under Section 6(m) of Republic Act No. 8042, failure to reimburse the expenses incurred by the worker when deployment does not actually take place, without the worker’s fault, is illegal recruitment.
The affidavit of desistance purportedly executed by Jeffries and Howard does not exonerate Ocden from criminal liability when the prosecution had successfully proved her guilt beyond reasonable doubt. In People v. Romero, we held that:
The fact that complainants Bernardo Salazar and Richard Quillope executed a Joint Affidavit of Desistance does not serve to exculpate accused-appellant from criminal liability insofar as the case for illegal recruitment is concerned since the Court looks with disfavor the dropping of criminal complaints upon mere affidavit of desistance of the complainant, particularly where the commission of the offense, as is in this case, is duly supported by documentary evidence.
Generally, the Court attaches no persuasive value to affidavits of desistance, especially when it is executed as an afterthought. It would be a dangerous rule for courts to reject testimonies solemnly taken before the courts of justice simply because the witnesses who had given them, later on, changed their mind for one reason or another, for such rule would make solemn trial a mockery and place the investigation of truth at the mercy of unscrupulous witness.
Complainants Bernardo Salazar and Richard Quillope may have a change of heart insofar as the offense wrought on their person is concerned when they executed their joint affidavit of desistance but this will not affect the public prosecution of the offense itself. It is relevant to note that “the right of prosecution and punishment for a crime is one of the attributes that by a natural law belongs to the sovereign power instinctly charged by the common will of the members of society to look after, guard and defend the interests of the community, the individual and social rights and the liberties of every citizen and the guaranty of the exercise of his rights.” This cardinal principle which states that to the State belongs the power to prosecute and punish crimes should not be overlooked since a criminal offense is an outrage to the sovereign State.
In her bid to exculpate herself, Ocden asserts that she was also just an applicant for overseas employment; and that she was receiving her co-applicants’ job applications and other requirements, and accepting her co-applicants’ payments of placement fees, because she was designated as the applicants’ leader by Ramos, the real recruiter.
Ocden’s testimony is self-serving and uncorroborated. Ocden’s denial of any illegal recruitment activity cannot stand against the prosecution witnesses’ positive identification of her in court as the person who induced them to part with their money upon the misrepresentation and false promise of deployment to Italy as factory workers. Besides, despite several opportunities given to Ocden by the RTC, she failed to present Ramos, who Ocden alleged to be the real recruiter and to whom she turned over the placement fees paid by her co-applicants.
Between the categorical statements of the prosecution witnesses, on the one hand, and the bare denial of Ocden, on the other, the former must perforce prevail. An affirmative testimony is far stronger than a negative testimony especially when the former comes from the mouth of a credible witness. Denial, same as an alibi, if not substantiated by clear and convincing evidence, is negative and self-serving evidence undeserving of weight in law. It is considered with suspicion and always received with caution, not only because it is inherently weak and unreliable but also because it is easily fabricated and concocted.
Moreover, in the absence of any evidence that the prosecution witnesses were motivated by improper motives, the trial court’s assessment of the credibility of the witnesses shall not be interfered with by this Court. It is a settled rule that factual findings of the trial courts, including their assessment of the witnesses’ credibility, are entitled to great weight and respect by the Supreme Court, particularly when the Court of Appeals affirmed such findings. After all, the trial court is in the best position to determine the value and weight of the testimonies of witnesses. The absence of any showing that the trial court plainly overlooked certain facts of substance and value that, if considered, might affect the result of the case, or that its assessment was arbitrary, impels the Court to defer to the trial court’s determination according credibility to the prosecution evidence.
Ocden further argues that the prosecution did not sufficiently establish that she illegally recruited at least three persons, to constitute illegal recruitment on a large scale. Out of the victims named in the Information, only Mana-a and Ferrer testified in court. Mana-a did not complete her testimony, depriving Ocden of the opportunity to cross-examine her; and even if Mana-a’s testimony was not expunged from the record, it was insufficient to prove illegal recruitment by Ocden. Although Ferrer testified that she and Mana-a filed a complaint for illegal recruitment against Ocden, Ferrer’s testimony is competent only as to the illegal recruitment activities committed by Ocden against her, and not against Mana-a. Ocden again objects to Golidan’s testimony as hearsay, not being based on Golidan’s personal knowledge.
Under the last paragraph of Section 6, Republic Act No. 8042, illegal recruitment shall be considered an offense involving economic sabotage if committed in a large scale, that is, committed against three or more persons individually or as a group.
In People v. Hu, we held that a conviction for large scale illegal recruitment must be based on a finding in each case of illegal recruitment of three or more persons, whether individually or as a group. While it is true that the law does not require that at least three victims testify at the trial, nevertheless, it is necessary that there is sufficient evidence proving that the offense was committed against three or more persons. In this case, there is conclusive evidence that Ocden recruited Mana-a, Ferrer, and Golidan’s sons, Jeffries and Howard, for purported employment as factory workers in Italy. As aptly observed by the Court of Appeals:
Mana-a’s testimony, although not completed, sufficiently established that accused-appellant promised Mana-a a job placement in a factory in Italy for a fee with accused-appellant even accompanying her for the required medical examination. Likewise, Julia Golidan’s testimony adequately proves that accused-appellant recruited Jeffries and Howard Golidan for a job in Italy, also for a fee. Contrary to the accused-appellant’s contention, Julia had personal knowledge of the facts and circumstances surrounding the charges for illegal recruitment and estafa filed by her sons. Julia was not only privy to her sons’ recruitment but also directly transacted with accused-appellant, submitting her sons’ requirements and paying the placement fees as evidenced by a receipt issued in her name. Even after the placement did not materialize, Julia acted with her sons to secure the partial reimbursement of the placement fees.
And even though only Ferrer and Golidan testified as to Ocden’s failure to reimburse the placements fees paid when the deployment did not take place, their testimonies already established the fact of non-reimbursement as to three persons, namely, Ferrer and Golidan’s two sons, Jeffries and Howard.
Section 7(b) of Republic Act No. 8042 prescribes a penalty of life imprisonment and a fine of not less than
P500,000.00 nor more than P1,000,000.00 if the illegal recruitment constitutes economic sabotage. The RTC, as affirmed by the Court of Appeals, imposed upon Ocden the penalty of life imprisonment and a fine of only P100,000.00. Since the fine of P100,000 is below the minimum set by law, we are increasing the same to P500,000.00.
We are likewise affirming the conviction of Ocden for the crime of estafa. The very same evidence proving Ocden’s liability for illegal recruitment also established her liability for estafa.
It is settled that a person may be charged and convicted separately of illegal recruitment under Republic Act No. 8042 in relation to the Labor Code, and estafa under Article 315, paragraph 2(a) of the Revised Penal Code. We explicated in People v. Yabut that:
In this jurisdiction, it is settled that a person who commits illegal recruitment may be charged and convicted separately of illegal recruitment under the Labor Code and estafa under par. 2(a) of Art. 315 of the Revised Penal Code. The offense of illegal recruitment is malum prohibitum where the criminal intent of the accused is not necessary for conviction, while estafa is malum in se where the criminal intent of the accused is crucial for conviction. Conviction for offenses under the Labor Code does not bar conviction for offenses punishable by other laws. Conversely, conviction for estafa under par. 2(a) of Art. 315 of the Revised Penal Code does not bar a conviction for illegal recruitment under the Labor Code. It follows that one’s acquittal of the crime of estafa will not necessarily result in his acquittal of the crime of illegal recruitment in large scale, and vice versa.
Article 315, paragraph 2(a) of the Revised Penal Code defines estafa as:
Art. 315. Swindling (estafa). - Any person who shall defraud another by any of the means mentioned hereinbelow x x x:
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 the fraud:
(a) By using fictitious name, or falsely pretending to possess power, influence, qualifications, property, credit, agency, business or imaginary transactions; or by means of other similar deceits.
The elements of estafa are: (a) that the accused defrauded another by abuse of confidence or by means of deceit, and (b) that damage or prejudice capable of pecuniary estimation is caused to the offended party or third person.
Both these elements are present in the instant case. Ocden represented to Ferrer, Golidan, and Golidan’s two sons, Jeffries and Howard, that she could provide them with overseas jobs. Convinced by Ocden, Ferrer, Golidan, and Golidan’s sons paid substantial amounts as placement fees to her. Ferrer and Golidan’s sons were never able to leave for Italy, instead, they ended up in Zamboanga, where, Ocden claimed, it would be easier to have their visas to Italy processed. Despite the fact that Golidan’s sons, Jeffries and Howard, were stranded in Zamboanga for almost a month, Ocden still assured them and their mother that they would be able to leave for Italy. There is definitely deceit on the part of Ocden and damage on the part of Ferrer and Golidan’s sons, thus, justifying Ocden’s conviction for estafa in Criminal Case Nos. 16316-R, 16318-R, and 16964-R.
The penalty for estafa depends on the amount of defraudation. According to Article 315 of the Revised Penal Code:
Art. 315. Swindling (estafa). – Any person who shall defraud another by any of the means mentioned hereinbelow shall be punished by:
1st. The penalty of prision correccional in its maximum period to prision mayor in its minimum period, if the amount of the fraud is over 12,000 pesos but does not exceed 22,000 pesos; and if such amount exceeds the latter sum, the penalty provided in this paragraph shall be imposed in its maximum period, adding one year for each additional 10,000 pesos; but the total penalty which may be imposed shall not exceed twenty years. In such cases, and in connection with the accessory penalties which may be imposed and for the purpose of the other provisions of this Code, the penalty shall be termed prision mayor or reclusion temporal, as the case may be.
The prescribed penalty for estafa under Article 315 of the Revised Penal Code, when the amount of fraud is over
P22,000.00, is prision correccional maximum to prision mayor minimum, adding one year to the maximum period for each additional P10,000.00, provided that the total penalty shall not exceed 20 years.
Applying the Indeterminate Sentence Law, we take the minimum term from the penalty next lower than the minimum prescribed by law, or anywhere within prision correccional minimum and medium (i.e., from 6 months and 1 day to 4 years and 2 months). Consequently, both the RTC and the Court of Appeals correctly fixed the minimum term in Criminal Case Nos. 16316-R and 16318-R at 2 years, 11 months, and 10 days of prision correccional; and in Criminal Case No. 16964-R at 4 years and 2 months of prision correccional, since these are within the range of prision correccional minimum and medium.
As for the maximum term under the Indeterminate Sentence Law, we take the maximum period of the prescribed penalty, 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. To compute the maximum period of the prescribed penalty, the time included in prision correccional maximum to prision mayor minimum shall be divided into three equal portions, with each portion forming a period. Following this computation, the maximum period for 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 substracted 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 People v. Pabalan.
In Criminal Case Nos. 16316-R and 16318-R, brothers Jeffries and Howard Golidan were each defrauded of the amount of
P40,000.00, for which the Court of Appeals sentenced Ocden to an indeterminate penalty of 2 years, 11 months, and 10 days of prision correccional as minimum, to 9 years of prision mayor as maximum. Upon review, however, we modify the maximum term of the indeterminate penalty imposed on Ocden in said criminal cases. Since the amount defrauded exceeds P22,000.00 by P18,000.00, 1 year shall be added to the maximum period of the prescribed penalty (anywhere between 6 years, 8 months, and 21 days to 8 years). There being no aggravating circumstance, we apply the lowest of the maximum period, which is 6 years, 8 months, and 21 days. Adding the one year incremental penalty, the maximum term of Ocden’s indeterminate sentence in these two cases is only 7 years, 8 months, and 21 days of prision mayor.
In Criminal Cases No. 19694-R, Ferrer was defrauded of the amount of
P70,000.00, for which the Court of Appeals sentenced Ocden to an indeterminate penalty of 4 years and 2 months of prision correccional, as minimum, to 12 years of prision mayor, as maximum. Upon recomputation, we also have to modify the maximum term of the indeterminate sentence imposed upon Ocden in Criminal Case No. 19694-R. Given that the amount defrauded exceeds P22,000.00 by P48,000.00, 4 years shall be added to the maximum period of the prescribed penalty (anywhere between 6 years, 8 months, and 21 days to 8 years). There likewise being no aggravating circumstance in this case, we add the 4 years of incremental penalty to the lowest of the maximum period, which is 6 years, 8 months, and 21 days. The maximum term, therefor, of Ocden’s indeterminate sentence in Criminal Case No. 19694-R is only 10 years, 8 months, and 21 days of prision mayor.