Qualified theft defined; proper penalty explained

The elements of the offense of theft as provided for in Article 3089 of the Revised Penal Code are as follows: (1) that there be carrying of private property; (2) that said property belongs to another; (3) that the taking be done with intent to gain; (4) that the taking be achieved without the permission of the owner; and (5) that the taking be achieved without the use of violence against or intimidation of persons or force upon things.10 Theft becomes qualified if some of the following conditions under Article 31011 is current: (1) the theft is perpetrated by a national servant; (2) the theft is committed with grave abuse of confidence; (3) the property stolen is either a motor vehicle, mail matter or massive cattle; (4) the property stolen consists of coconuts removed from the assumptions of a farm; (5) the property stolen is fish taken by a fishpond or fishery; and (6) the property has been taken on the occasion of war, fire, typhoon, volcanic eruption, or any other calamity, vehicular accident or civil disturbance.12

Qualified theft

Here, the prosecution was able to show beyond reasonable doubt that the sum of P797,187.85 taken doesn’t belong to petitioner however to VCCI and that petitioner took it with no VCCI’s approval and with grave abuse of confidence by making the most of her position as accountant and bookkeeper. The prosecution’s evidence revealed that petitioner was entrusted with checks payable to VCCI or even Viva by virtue of her position as accountant and bookkeeper. She deposited the said checks into the joint account preserved by VCCI and Jefferson Tan, subsequently withdrew a total of P797,187.85 from said joint account using the pre-signed checks, along with her since the payee. In other words, the bank account was only the instrument through which petitioner stole from her employer VCCI.

“Qualified theft Art. 310. —

The crime of theft shall be punished by the penalties next higher by two degrees than those respectively specified in the next preceding article, if committed by a domestic servant, or with grave abuse of confidence, or if the property stolen is motor vehicle, mail matter or large cattle or consists of coconuts taken from the premises of the plantation or fish taken from a fishpond or fishery, or if property is taken on the occasion of fire, earthquake, typhoon, volcanic eruption, or any other calamity, vehicular accident or civil disturbance”
(As amended by R.A. 120 and B.P. Blg. 71, May 1, 1980) (Revised Penal Code of the Philippines).

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We find no cogent reason to disturb the aforementioned findings of the trial court which were confirmed by the CA and completely 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 rule of thumb, conclusive upon this Court13 in the lack of any showing of grave abuse of discretion. In this case, none of the exceptions to the general rule on conclusiveness of stated findings of facts are applicable.14 The Court provides respect and weight to the trial court’s findings from criminal prosecution since the latter is in a better position to decide the issue, 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 as it gave short shrift to petitioner’s argument that full ownership of the item stolen had to be established first before she could be convicted of qualified theft. As correctly held by the CA, the topic of the offense of theft is any personal property belonging to the other. Hence, provided that the property taken does not belong to the accused who has a valid claim thereover, it is immaterial whether said criminal stole it from the proprietor, a mere possessor, or possibly a burglar of the house.16 In any event, as mentioned previously, the factual findings of the courts a quo concerning the ownership of the sum petitioner stole is conclusive on the Court, the finding has been 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.”