• Citing a debtor for indirect contempt goes beyond non-payment of debt

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    Persida Acosta

    Persida Acosta

    Dear PAO,
    A case for non-payment of loan was filed against my father. He never bothered me about it because, for him, it was his personal obligation to settle. I was just surprised when he told me that there was an order to imprison him. He mentioned something about indirect contempt. I thought nobody can be imprisoned due to non-payment of debt, or as in his case, non-payment of loan. How come there is an order against him in that manner? Please enlighten me because I am really worried for him.
    Arianne

    Dear Arianne,
    You are correct in saying that no person can be imprisoned merely by reason of non-payment of debt. This guarantee is expressly provided for under Section 20, Article III of the 1987 Philippine Constitution which states: “No person shall be imprisoned for debt or non-payment of poll tax.”

    In the situation that you have presented, we cannot conclude with certainty whether the order issued against your father was precisely because of his failure to pay his loan obligation. If it was, then you may question that order of the court.

    You should consider, however, that the order may have been for some other reason. As you have mentioned in your letter, your father raised his concern regarding an indirect contempt. This may very well be the reason why the court issued such order against him. Indirect contempt is defined by and punished under Section 3, Rule 71 of the Revised Rules of Court which provides that:

    “After a charge in writing has been filed, and an opportunity given to the respondent to comment thereon within such period as may be fixed by the court and to be heard by himself or counsel, a person guilty of any of the following acts may be punished for indirect contempt:

    (a)    Misbehavior of an officer of a court in the performance of his official duties or in his official transactions;

    (b)    Disobedience of or resistance to a lawful writ, process, order or judgment of a court, including the act of a person who, after being dispossessed or ejected from any real property by the judgment or process of any court of competent jurisdiction, enters or attempts or induces another to enter into or upon such real property, for the purpose of executing acts of ownership or possession, or in any manner disturbs the possession given to the person adjudged to be entitled thereto;

    (c)    Any abuse of or any unlawful interference with the processes or proceedings of a court not constituting direct contempt under Section 1 of this Rule;

    (d)    Any improper conduct tending, directly or indirectly, to impede, obstruct or degrade the administration of justice;

    (e)    Assuming to be an attorney or an officer of a court, and acting as such without authority;

    (f)    Failure to obey a subpoena duly served;

    (g)    The rescue, or attempted rescue, of a person or property in the custody of an officer by virtue of an order or process of a court held by him

    But nothing in this section shall be so construed as to prevent the court from issuing process to bring the respondent into court, or from holding him in custody pending such proceedings.”

    If your father was adjudged guilty of indirect contempt committed against a Regional Trial Court or a court of equivalent or higher rank, he may be penalized with fine not exceeding Thirty Thousand Pesos (P30,000.00) or imprisonment not exceeding six (6) months, or both. If he is adjudged guilty of indirect contempt committed against a lower court, he may be punished with fine not exceeding Five Thousand Pesos (P5,000.00) or imprisonment not exceeding one (1) month, or both. If he violated a writ of injunction, temporary restraining order or status quo order, he may also be ordered to make complete restitution to the injured party of the property involved or such amount as may be alleged and proved (Section 7, Rule 71, Revised Rules of Court).

    We hope that we were able to answer your queries. Please be reminded that this advice is based solely on the facts you have narrated and our appreciation of the same. Our opinion may vary when other facts are changed or elaborated.

    Editor’s note: Dear PAO is a daily column of the Public Attorney’s Office. Questions for Chief Acosta may be sent to dearpao@manilatimes.net

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