Theft and the Law

My first job as a lawyer was as an associate in a tiny law firm in Alabang. One of our clients was a real estate firm with lots of developments around the country, including Cavite. During my first appearance at the Municipal Trial Court in Bacoor, Cavite, I was surprised when a few minutes before 8AM, a court staff asked the crowd inside the courtroom to group themselves as follows: SM to the left and non-SM to the right. The crowd dutifully complied and moved seats. After a few minutes, the left side of the courtroom was packed, with people even standing at the back, and the right side, where I was, had less than a dozen people.

As it turned out, the people on the left side had been caught shoplifting at the nearby SM Bacoor and since SM did not have a policy of settling criminal cases, even the smallest act of thievery was prosecuted.

The penalty for theft under Article 309 of the Revised Penal Code is based on the value of the thing(s) stolen. The range of values go from Php5 to Php102,000, with the corresponding penalties ranging from a fine not exceeding Php50, to imprisonment of not more than 20 years. However, Article 309(8) takes into consideration the economic hardship that may have driven a person to steal:
Art. 309. Penalties. — Any person guilty of theft shall be punished by:


8. Arresto menor in its minimum period or a fine not exceeding 50 pesos, when the value of the thing stolen is not over 5 pesos, and the offender shall have acted under the impulse of hunger, poverty, or the difficulty of earning a livelihood for the support of himself or his family.

It should be noted though that the Revised Penal Code came into existence in 1930, when Php102,000 could probably be a substantial downpayment for a house or could even pay for a house. However, that's no longer the case now since Php102,000 is only good for an Iphone X, a powerbank, and a protective case. Thus the amendment of the Revised Penal Code with Republic Act No. 10951 which was signed by President Duterte into law on August 29, 2017. Under Republic Act No. 10951, the original range of values of Php5 to Php102,000 for theft, were increased to Php500 to Php10,200,000, with the corresponding penalties remaining the same.

Back in the Bacoor courtroom, I noticed that some of the SM shoplifters were already released after their arraignment because of time served. Since the Revised Penal Code had not been amended at that time, I'm assuming that the value of the item stolen from SM was either between Php5-Php200 (punishable by arresto mayor or imprisonment of 1 month and 1 day to 6 months) or Php201-Php12,000 (punishable by prision correccional or imprisonment of 6 months and 1 day to 6 years).

This post was triggered by news of an SM supermarket employee who was jailed for stealing a can of corned beef. The media has already gone to town with the news, depicting the SM employee as a poor victim and SM as a heartless and evil conglomerate. But pilferage is a serious crime in any business and SM is well within its rights to refuse to settle incidents of theft or qualified theft, as was the case with the SM employee. Furthermore, as the jampacked Bacoor courtroom proved, theft is very prevalent in SM and their policy of non-settling of criminal cases has not deterred other acts of theft from happening.

My softie heart says that theft borne out of desperation and committed by someone who is clearly not a habitual criminal, should be forgiven as a Christian gesture. But that's exactly why I'm not the one running a multi-billion peso enterprise like SM. I'm sure Henry Sy and his children are decent individuals, but a line has to be drawn and they drew that line at theft and pilferage.

Poverty should never be seen as an excuse to commit crime, no matter how petty it might be. This is an insult to the millions of poor and honest Filipinos who strive to better their lives without resorting to crime. But at the same time, we cannot close our eyes to the fact that poverty pushes people to do acts that they normally wouldn't do.

Maybe SM could offer employee discounts and items bought by employees can be paid in installment through salary deduction to minimize pilferage? Or what if SM utilizes a three-strike policy for its employees, with pilferage of anything below Php100 considered as a strike against the employee? But this is just me and my bleeding heart thinking out loud. I really don't know how to run a company with thousands of employees, millions of customers, and daily incidents of theft and pilferage.

As for the SM employee who stole a can of corned beef worth Php31, he was charged with qualified theft under Article 310 not just simple theft, so his penalty is increased by two degrees from arresto menor minimu to prision correccional in its minimum period (imprisonment of 6 months and 1 day to 2 years and 4 months)

That's right, imprisonment for at least 6 months and 1 day for stealing a can of corned beef. It boggles the mind and breaks the heart.



  1. What a timely post in this season of shopping Jill! (not for me coz no salary/ sweldo haha). But yeah this new law is quite interesting, especially as it may be applied retroactively, as long as it doesn't prejudice the accused.

    Real life case in point: reduction of previously-issued prison sentences on MR /motion for reconsideration by accused

  2. I hope our prison cells get decongested because of this law. I remember someone said before that most prisoners are already "overstaying" because it takes them a while to be arraigned.

    And one more thing, still no sweldo?! How many months has it been?

  3. I didn't know that the penal code has been revised.

    I remember reading a report that the young man thought that he would probably be charged 3x the price of the corned beef or docked a day's worth of his salary. But arrested and jailed for corned beef. But my heart breaks for that young man. 24601 lang ang peg.

  4. The revision, specially of the crime threshold values, was long overdue. Can you imagine being jailed for a few days for stealing something worth Php5?

    I'm sure SM must be getting a lot of backlash now because of what happened. But I'm curious why this was the only incident of pilferage or theft that garnered media attention. I'm 100% sure SM has also prosecuted theft of less valuable items than corned beef.

    Again, I respect SM's management prerogative, but the number of instances of pilferage and theft must show that their current policies are not working.

  5. Ang sakit naman sa puso nyan. Jail punishment that long for a can of corned beef!!!! samantalagang maraming nasa labas na milyones ang naumit.
    Though napaisip din ako, if your are an employee of SM, bakit mo ipagpapalit ang pangalan mo sa value of P31?
    Parang mas gagawin yun ng tambay.

  6. Good day! I just want to have imformation about some things. I have this friend who was previously working as a gas station manager. But ever since she started to have her bad habits it pushed her to steal money from her company. The company then discovered it and audited the total damage amounting to almost 1.4 million pesos. Company decided to remove her and let her rest. That happened last 2016. And now it's 2018 the company decided to file a case. What I want to know is that can the company still file a case even if it's already 2 years?.Thank you.

  7. Yes, because the period to file a complaint for qualified theft has not yet prescribed.

  8. Hello jill. I could use some legal advise . Please contact me and I will tell you the situation of my problem. Thank you...

  9. I'm actually torn - yes I do understand what it means to forgive especially for something as staple as canned food but at the same time I also believe it opens the door wide for others to do the same knowing that there is a three strike policy or whatever. I think retail chains just want to minimize theft and if by being strict with instances such as these will help to significantly reduce losses then they will definitely be careful with the implementation.

    I started working in a retailing company just a few months ago and there are some companies that implement a shared loss for the employees from which the goods of the branch were stolen (e.g. If a shoplifting syndicate gang ends up getting P60k merchandise in one blow, the the people in the operations and the security will split the cost of the losses). If you were part of that team who would have to pay for the merchandise that was stolen then you would also want the shoplifters to be caught and prosecuted.

  10. Oh wow, I can just imagine the bad blood resulting from a shared loss system for employees. On the other hand, everyone will be on their toes and will make sure that everyone else toes the line. Does this system work for those retail companies that use it?

  11. Masyado pala talagang malaki ang parusa sa shoplifters, or should I say mabagsik! Regardless of the amount kulong ang kapalit. Kahit one month imprisonement for stealing P31 is too heavy. Iba din sana ang treatment sa first time offenders.

  12. I do not agree with the shared liability. Why should a worker in the shoe department have to pay for a can of corned beef stolen in the grocery section. This is very unreasonable and creates bad blood between store owners, workers and customers.

  13. RobbedByAYoungerSiblingMay 25, 2019 at 7:23 PM

    I have a question po, if my deceased left money on her bank acct nd my sister knowingly took it by unauth withdrawal, t
    The amount of which is more than 100k (she returned portion of the money when we discovered she created an online acct for our deceased mother to funnel the money to her own acct), is qualified theft applicablr in the sense that the money is an estate and belongs to the heirs (her included)? What is the penalty for theft more than 100k? Thanks in advance for the answer.

  14. Hello,

    The crime committed here was estafa by abuse of confidence and not qualified theft because qualified theft requires an employer-employee relationship where the employee abused his/her position to steal from the employer.

    You said that the amount involved was Php100,000, so the penalty for that can be found in the third paragraph of Article 315 of the Revised Penal Code:

    '3rd. The penalty of arresto mayor in its maximum period to prision correccional. in its minimum period, if such amount is over Forty thousand pesos (P40,000) but does not exceed One million two hundred thousand pesos (P1,200,000)

    That's a range of imprisonment between 4 months and 1 day to 6 months minimum to 2 years and 4 months as maximum.

    I hope your family will be able to resolve this internally without resorting to the judicial system. Good luck po.

  15. Hi Melvin, hope you can also help me. I have a friend who is facing similar situation.

  16. I need advise please. I have a friend who is currently in the same situation.

  17. Hi Ma'am,

    Ask ko lang po theft din po ba ang pwedeng ikaso kung yung kuya ko nagpapadala po ng pera sa dati nyang leave in partner dahil sa may anak sila nito. Pero nitong huli nalaman namin na wala naman pala silang anak at since 2016 pa nagpapadala ng pera ang kuya ko po na 3,000 ka da buwan. I hope masagot nyo po ang tanong ko. Maraming salamat po.

  18. Hello,

    Ask ko lang po, friend ko po kasi nakulong dahil nahuli syang maglalabas ng gamit ng kompanya na worth 600, dahil daw company policy pinakulong sya kaso is qualified theft, gaano po kaya sya katagal sa jail pagkaganoon? Ang kung papyansahan naman magkano po ang aabutin?

  19. kinasuhan yung ko ng theft, dahil sa pagpuslit ng tv worth 45, 000. Dalawa silang kinasuhan, may idea po ba kayo kung ano o gaano katagal yung magiging sentence sa kanila ? Thanks in advance. Dont know what to do na talaga.

  20. kinasuhan yung husband ko ng theft, dahil sa pagpuslit ng tv worth 45, 000. Dalawa silang kinasuhan, may idea po ba kayo kung ano o gaano katagal yung magiging sentence sa kanila ? Thanks in advance. Dont know what to do na talaga.

  21. hello. i have same dilemma po, gaano kaya katagal aabutin yung imprisonment if worth 45, 000 yung nilabas nila na tv ? pero naibalik naman yung tv and yung 5000 na binigay nung customer?

  22. Can you consider it as a theft ia for example you process a swapto other person, however that persons item is not working and in just 2 days you ask to trade it back again and the person who has that defective item refuse and insist that they are not going to give back the item.?

  23. Hi Joshua,

    That's not theft but a violation of consumer protection laws.

  24. Hi Mae,

    Kung simple theft yan, the penalty is prision correccional in its minimum and medium periods o pagkakulong between 6 months and 1 day to 4 years and 2 months. Kung qualified theft, mas mataas ang penalty so ang pagkakulong ay betwen 12 years and 1 day to 17 years and 4 months.

  25. I also have a big concern to consult po

  26. Hello po.i am an employer...i Also need to consult regarding qualified theft

  27. Hi madam, I hope you can help me. My phone got stolen at my work, the the next after I filed an IR the man admitted he took the phone thinking it was his. But when he was asked to surrender it he said he lost it. Kinda lame excuse for a theft and Im not buying it. The thing is he might be terminated as per company policy though there is still admin hearing. My concern is can I do a settlement and ask for a certain price of the phone with a deadline? And lets say he will not go over the settlement what case should I file? Does it fall under qualified theft? The price of the phone when bought was around 13k. What are the possible penalties he will incur or the prisonment duration? qualified theft under Article 310?

    I am really clueless and doesn’t have the money to do legal council. I dont want to let this past because he might do this with others and its not about the money its the contacts and other impt documents I lost.

    No hate from anyone but I just need advice so I can weigh on things.

    Thanks and God bless.

  28. Hi Rain,

    You can only make a settlement in exchange for not filing a criminal case against the man who stole your phone. Your settlement will not affect the administrative proceedings against him because that's between him and your place of employment.

    If you do decide to file a case of simple theft against him (not qualified theft because there's no employer-employee relationship between the two of you as you're both employees) technically you can no longer settle the case but if he decides to settle and you accept, then the case will be dropped and the criminal case will also be good as dismissed for not having a witness.The penalty for the price involved is imprisonment of a minimum of one (1) day to a maximum of six (6) months.

  29. Hi, is qualified theft bailable?

  30. Yes, bail amount depends on the value of the item supposedly stolen

  31. How about some theft how can bail how can we get them her sympatice for that issue. Maybe any help to give another change for what they do

  32. Giod day po. Nahuli po lasi yung pamangkin ko na nagshoplift ng Chicken fillet worth P240 pesos sa isang supermarket. Pinicturan po siya at pati tung ID nya ay pinicturan din.Sinabihan sya na kung kung ayaw nya madala sa police ay makipagsettle sya sa halagang 5k. Ngunit tumawad ang pamangkin ko 2,500 dahil iyon lang ang hawak niya.pumayag naman sila at pinapirma siya na siya ay kisang loob na nakipagsettle dahil sa sobrangbtakot niya sa kahihiyan. Inamin naman nyang nagkamali talga siya. Ang ikinatatakot po niua ngayon ay bka daw po ilabas ng supermarket ang kanyang litrato at ID.
    Maari po bang gawin nila iyon kahit nakipagsettle na ang pwmangkin ko.. maraming salamat po..

    1. Hi Lady Google,

      Pinagbabawal po sa mga tindahan ang pag-paskil ng litrato o ID ng mga nahuling shoplifters kasi ito ay pagpapahiya lamang (shaming) at hindi kasama sa karapatan ng tindahan na protektahan ang establishment niya. Hindi "commensurate" o "proportional" ang pagpaskil ng litrato ng shoplifter sa krimen na nagawa, mas lalo na kung nakapag-areglo na ang shoplifter at ang tindahan.

      Pwedeng ikalat ng tindahan ang litrato ng mga shoplifters sa mga security guards or employees niya para maging alerto sila sa mga shoplifters, ito ay pasok sa right to security ng tindahan. Pero ang pagpaskil ng litrato ng shoplifter sa public place ay walang kinalaman sa right to security at lumalabag pa sa karapatang pantao ng shoplifter.


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