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Q. Non-imprisonment for debts

1. CONCEPT

No person shall be imprisoned for debt or non-payment of a poll tax. (Section 20, Article III, 1987 Constitution)

Abolition of imprisonment for debt was brought about by the force of public opinion which looked with abhorrence on statutory provision which permitted the cruel imprisonment of debtors. The people sought to prevent the use of the power of the State to coerce the payment of debts. The control of the creditor over the person of his debtor was abolished by human statutory and constitutional provisions. (Ganaway v. Quillen, G.R. No. L-18619, 20 February 1922)

a. Debt

The “debt” intended to be covered by the constitutional guaranty has a well-defined meaning. Organic provisions relieving from imprisonment for debt, were intended to prevent the commitment for debtors to prison for liabilities arising from actions ex contractu. The inhibition was never meant to conclude damages arising in actions ex delicto, for the reason that the damages recoverable therein do not arise from any contract entered into between the parties, but are imposed upon the defendant for the wrong he has done and are considered as a punishment therefor, nor to fines and penalties imposed by the courts in criminal proceedings as punishments for crime. (Ibid.)

b. Bouncing Checks

The gravamen of the offense punished by BP 22 is the act of making and issuing a worthless check or a check that is dishonored upon its presentation for payment. It is not the non-payment of an obligation which the law punishes. The law is not intended or 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. Because of its deleterious effects on the public interest, the practice is proscribed by the law. The law punishes the act not as an offense against property, but an offense against public order. (Lozano v. Martinez, En Banc, G.R. Nos. L-63419, 66839-42, 71654, etc., En Banc, 18 December 1986)

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