Friday, February 3, 2012

Qualified theft defined; proper penalty explained

Item No

"x x x.

The elements of the crime of theft as provided for in Article 3089 of the Revised Penal Code are as follows: (1) that there be taking of personal property; (2) that said property belongs to another; (3) that the taking be done with intent to gain; (4) that the taking be done without the consent of the owner; and (5) that the taking be accomplished without the use of violence against or intimidation of persons or force upon things.10 Theft becomes qualified when any of the following circumstances under Article 31011 is present: (1) the theft is committed by a domestic servant; (2) the theft is committed with grave abuse of confidence; (3) the property stolen is either a motor vehicle, mail matter or large cattle; (4) the property stolen consists of coconuts taken from the premises of a plantation; (5) the property stolen is fish taken from a fishpond or fishery; and (6) the property was taken on the occasion of fire, earthquake, typhoon, volcanic eruption, or any other calamity, vehicular accident or civil disturbance.12

Here, the prosecution was able to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the amount of P797,187.85 taken does not belong to petitioner but to VCCI and that petitioner took it without VCCI’s consent and with grave abuse of confidence by taking advantage of her position as accountant and bookkeeper. The prosecution’s evidence proved that petitioner was entrusted with checks payable to VCCI or Viva by virtue of her position as accountant and bookkeeper. She deposited the said checks to the joint account maintained by VCCI and Jefferson Tan, then withdrew a total of P797,187.85 from said joint account using the pre-signed checks, with her as the payee. In other words, the bank account was merely the instrument through which petitioner stole from her employer VCCI.

x x x

We find no cogent reason to disturb the above findings of the trial court which were affirmed by the CA and fully supported by the evidence on record. Time and again, the Court has held that the facts found by the trial court, as affirmed in toto by the CA, are as a general rule, conclusive upon this Court13 in the absence of any showing of grave abuse of discretion. In this case, none of the exceptions to the general rule on conclusiveness of said findings of facts are applicable.14 The Court gives weight and respect to the trial court’s findings in criminal prosecution because the latter is in a better position to decide the question, having heard the witnesses in person and observed their deportment and manner of testifying during the trial.15 Absent any showing that the lower courts overlooked substantial facts and circumstances, which if considered, would change the result of the case, this Court gives deference to the trial court’s appreciation of the facts and of the credibility of witnesses.

Moreover, we agree with the CA when it gave short shrift to petitioner’s argument that full ownership of the thing stolen needed to be established first before she could be convicted of qualified theft. As correctly held by the CA, the subject of the crime of theft is any personal property belonging to another. Hence, as long as the property taken does not belong to the accused who has a valid claim thereover, it is immaterial whether said offender stole it from the owner, a mere possessor, or even a thief of the property.16 In any event, as stated above, the factual findings of the courts a quo as to the ownership of the amount petitioner stole is conclusive upon this Court, the finding being adequately supported by the evidence on record.

However, notwithstanding the correctness of the finding of petitioner’s guilt, a modification is called for as regards the imposable penalty. On the imposition of the correct penalty, People v. Mercado17 is instructive. Pursuant to said case, in the determination of the penalty for qualified theft, note is taken of the value of the property stolen, which is P797,187.85 in this case. Since the value exceeds P22,000.00, the basic penalty is prision mayor in its minimum and medium periods to be imposed in the maximum period, that is, eight (8) years, eight (8) months and one (1) day to ten (10) years of prision mayor.

To determine the additional years of imprisonment to be added to the basic penalty, the amount ofP22,000.00 is deducted from P797,187.85, which yields a remainder of P775,187.85. This amount is then divided by P10,000.00, disregarding any amount less than P10,000.00. The end result is that 77 years should be added to the basic penalty. However, the total imposable penalty for simple theft should not exceed 20 years. Thus, had petitioner committed simple theft, the penalty would be 20 years of reclusion temporal. As the penalty for qualified theft is two degrees higher, the trial court, as well as the appellate court, should have imposed the penalty of reclusion perpetua."

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