My brother’s high-end laptop was recently stolen in a restaurant where he was a regular customer. Although he reported it to the proper authorities who were able to secure a surveillance video of the thief in the act of taking his laptop, there were no leads as to the whereabouts of the thief and my brother’s laptop. Several months have passed when he saw his laptop being displayed for sale in a gadgets’ store. He was able to check and confirm that it was really his laptop. The owner of the establishment refused to give it back to him as they supposedly bought it online from an undisclosed seller. Despite my brother’s explanation that it was his laptop and plea for its return, the store owner refused to give it back. We are wondering now if we can file a case for fencing against the store owner. We hope for your advice.
To answer your question, we must refer to Presidential Decree (P.D.) No. 1612 known as the Anti-Fencing Law of 1979. This law defines the act of fencing as:
“… the act of any person who, with intent to gain for himself or for another, shall buy receive, possess, keep, acquire, conceal, sell or dispose of, or shall buy and sell, or in any other manner deal in any article, item, object or anything of value which he knows, or should be known to him, to have been derived from the proceeds of the crime of robbery or theft” (Section 2, P.D. No. 1612). Emphasis supplied.
In detail, jurisprudence provides that the elements of fencing are:
1. A crime of robbery or theft has been committed;
2. The accused, who is not a principal or accomplice in the commission of the crime of robbery or theft, buys, receives, possess, keeps, acquires, conceals, sells, or disposes, or buys and sells, or in any manner deals in any article, item, object or anything of value, which has been derived from the proceeds of the said crime;
3.The accused knows or should have known that the said article, item, or object or anything of value has been derived from the proceeds of the crime of robbery or theft; and
4.There is, on the part of the accused, intent to gain for himself or for another. (D.M. Consunji, Inc. vs. Esguerra, G.R. No. 118590, ZJuly 30, 1996; Tan vs. People, August 999)
Considering the above cited law and jurisprudence, we can confirm whether the store owner can be charged with the crime of fencing. Based on your narration, it appears that your brother’s laptop, which is now being displayed for sale, is the same laptop that was stolen from him. As such, it complies with the first element of fencing which is that a crime of theft has been committed. The second element is also present since the store owner, who is not a principal or accomplice in the crime of theft, not only possesses but also intends to sell your brother’s laptop which was obtained though theft. The store owner’s intention to sell the stolen laptop confirms his intention to gain for himself which is another element of the crime of fencing.
Another element of fencing is that the accused knows or should have known that the object is derived from robbery or theft. This element is also present here because as pointed out by jurisprudence, Section 5 of P.D. No.1612 expressly provides that mere possession of anything of value which has been subject of theft or robbery shall be prima facie evidence of fencing. And as such, it follows that a possessor of stolen goods is presumed to have knowledge that the goods found in his possession after the fact of theft or robbery has been established. (Dizon-Pamintuan vs People, GR 111426, 11 July 94)
Therefore, after taking into account the definition of the crime of fencing and the presence of all of its elements in your situation, it appears that you may file a criminal complaint for violation of the Anti-Fencing Law against the store owner who possesses and is currently selling your brother’s stolen laptop.
Again, we find it necessary to mention that this opinion is solely based on the facts you have narrated and our appreciation of the same. The opinion may vary when the facts are changed or elaborated.
We hope that we were able to enlighten you on the matter.
Editor’s note: Dear PAO is a daily column of the Public Attorney’s Office. Questions for Chief Acosta may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org