The RTC convicted the appellant of the crimes of illegal recruitment in large scale and five (5) counts of estafa committed against complainants Airene Etac, Jowel A. Baja, Joemar Aquino, Luis M. Bernardo and Anthony M. Canlas.
He exacted money from them for the plane ticket, hotel accommodation, processing of visa and placement fees.
The prosecution presented a Certification dated January 10, 2003 issued by Felicitas Q. Bay, Director II of the POEA Licensing Branch, showing that the appellant had no authority or license to lawfully engage in the recruitment and placement of workers.
On appeal, the CA upheld the factual findings of the RTC. It agreed with the trial court that all the elements of illegal recruitment, as defined under Article 13(b), in relation to Article 34 of the of the Labor Code, were sufficiently established by the prosecution’s evidence. The CA held that the appellant’s acts of promising the complainants that they would be deployed for work abroad after they paid him their placement fees, and his misrepresentations concerning his purported power and authority despite the lack of license, are constitutive of illegal recruitment in large scale.
The CA also declared that appellant’s assurances that he could deploy the complainants for employment in Hongkong constitutes estafa.
Whether or not the accused is guilty of Illegal Recruitment in Large Scale and of Estafa.
Illegal Recruitment In Large Scale
Article 38 of the Labor Code defines illegal recruitment as “any recruitment activities, including the prohibited practices enumerated under Article 34 of (the Labor Code), to be undertaken by non-licensees or non holders of authority.” The term “recruitment and placement” refers to any act of canvassing, enlisting, contracting, transporting, utilizing, hiring or procuring workers, including referrals, contract services, promising or advertising for employment, locally or abroad, whether for profit or not, provided that any person or entity which, in any manner, offers or promises for a fee employment to two or more persons shall be deemed engaged in recruitment and placement.
The law imposes a higher penalty when the illegal recruitment is committed by a syndicate or in large scale as they are considered an offense involving economic sabotage. Illegal recruitment is deemed committed by a syndicate if carried out by a group of three (3) or more persons conspiring and/or confederating with one another in carrying out any unlawful or illegal transaction, enterprise or scheme. It is deemed committed in large scale if committed against three (3) or more persons individually or as a group.
For illegal recruitment in large scale to prosper, the prosecution has to prove three essential elements, namely:
(1) the accused undertook a recruitment activity under Article 13(b) or any prohibited practice under Article 34 of the Labor Code;
(2) the accused did not have the license or the authority to lawfully engage in the recruitment and placement of workers; and
(3) the accused committed such illegal activity against three or more persons individually or as a group.
In the present case, appellant promised the five complainants that there were jobs available for them in Hongkong; and that through his help, they could be deployed for work within a month or two.
The acts of the accused constitute illegal recruitment. There is illegal recruitment when one who does not possess the necessary authority or license gives the impression of having the ability to send a worker abroad. Corollarily, where the offense is committed against three or more persons, as in this case, it is qualified to illegal recruitment in large scale which provides a higher penalty under Article 39(a) of the Labor Code.
We point out that conviction under the Labor Code for illegal recruitment does not preclude punishment under the Revised Penal Code for the crime of estafa. We are convinced that the prosecution proved beyond reasonable doubt that appellant violated Article 315(2)(a) of the RPC, which provides that estafa is committed by any person who defrauds another by using a fictitious name; or by falsely pretending to possess power, influence, qualifications, property, credit, agency, business; by imaginary transactions or similar forms of deceit executed prior to or simultaneous with the fraud.
The appellant’s act of falsely pretending to possess power and qualifications to deploy the complainants to Hongkong, even if he did not have the authority or license for the purpose, undoubtedly constitutes estafa under Article 315(2)(a) of the RPC.
The elements of deceit and damage are clearly present; the appellant’s false pretenses were the very cause that induced the complainants to part with their money.