I better start this post with a definition. Even though I lived under the same legal system as many of you, and even worked as a researcher for a lawyer for some years , I have to admit I never heard this word before I came to the Philippines:
Estafa is committed by a person who defrauds another causing him to suffer damage, by means of unfaithfulness or abuse of confidence, or of false pretense opt fraudulent acts. For the existence of the crime of estafa, two elements are indispensable: fraud and damage.2 In other words, the essential elements of estafa are: (1) The deceit employed to defraud another; and (2) the injury or damage caused thereby.
I surely have heard this term a lot in just my first few years here in the Philippines. And like the differences between slander and libel laws I wrote about a week or so ago, if you are new to the Philippines you might be very well advised to make estafa’s acquaintance also.
Estafa is on the books of some US states, but it’s an obscure and relatively antique statute. Here in the Philippines it’s a staple of the legal system. The most common place you’ll hear about it involves bouncing checks. When you write a check that is not covered by sufficient funds you of course are attempting to defraud the payee of the check. But you have also committed a much larger act, you have acted against the general trust of the population and the nation’s business community in particular. Checks are meant to be truthful documents and trust in business is indispensable … so it’s very common to hear of people issuing worthless checks being charged with estafa.
But you can get in deep estafa trouble quite easily even if you never write a check. Last year I did some research on the case of a foreigner who came to the Philippines and took up residence with a Filipina girlfriend he’d met. They lived openly as husband and wife and even had a child together. One little detail they seemed to overlook was, she was already married. The woman’s husband was long ago separated from her and appeared to be out of the picture. But under Philippine law, even couples who are “legally separated” are still married. Period.
To me, and many others perhaps, they both committed moral crimes but my goodness, “living together” is so common these days, what could really be legally wrong? Well, the foreigner found out. The woman’s legal husband filed charges of estafa against the wife’s new lover boy.
His acts were deceitful (the first predicate of estafa) and his acts caused actual damage to the husband … embarrassment and a distinct loss of ‘hiya’ … face … at the very least, which is the second predicate of estafa.
The foreigner was arrested and last time I checked he was still in jail while one long drawn out legal proceeding followed another. If found guilty, which likely he will, at the least he’ll have already served whatever time he winds up serving in pretrial confinement and then be deported to his native country, with a ban on re-entry and probably a child support order as well. I’ve probably known, give or take, a hundred or more foreigners who chose to come here and live with a woman already married … I wonder how many of them will someday run afoul of estafa?
Estafa can be much different than sordid romances too. A few months ago here in Bulacan a man entered the house of a neighbor and stole an expensive radio from the neighbor’s bedroom. Nobody knew what had happened. Wanting to turn the radio into cash, but not wanting to be seen selling it, the thief made a deal with the maid … a minor child … of the original victim. Not knowing it was stolen property the maid agreed to take the radio to a dealer in the local market, sell it and bring the cash back to the thief. For this she was paid a small fee, which she had reason to believe was just honest pay for an honest job. A child trusting an adult in a position of some authority … a peer of her employer.
The police found the radio at the market and from there the whole story unfolded.
Can you guess, aside from larceny, what the thief was charged with? Estafa. Two counts. He destroyed the employer’s trust in his servant (which anyone whose gone of the quest for a worthy maid knows is a thing of great value) and he destroyed the reputation of the young girl, who even though the police determined had no culpability, will be forever branded in some people’s minds as being party to thievery.
Your “takeaways” for today?
First: Trust is important. If someone trusts you, you do not have the option of acting in an untrustworthy manner … it’s not your option … you must uphold the trust even if you didn’t ask for it. It matters not how you feel morally, the law of estafa compels you to maintain the trust.
Two; Causing embarrassment or damaging a person’s reputation is more than something rude or uncouth. It can very well be a criminal act. Each person in the Philippines has a real property, one with legal value, their reputation. You damage that reputation very much at your own risk.
Disclaimer. I am not a lawyer and I don’t even play one on TV. But I try to live my life in acordance with this advice and if you choose to, you can too … or not, it’s a free country.