SC junks prohibition on plea bargain deals for drug cases

Ina Reformina, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Sep 08 2017 06:27 PM

 Ruling may help 82,000 detained on drug charges 

MANILA - The Supreme Court (SC) has junked the prohibition on plea bargain deals for all drug cases. 

The high court said this prohibition, found in Section 23 of Republic Act (RA) No. 9165 (Comprehensive Dangerous Act), is unconstitutional.

The ruling is in favor of Salvador Estipona, Jr., currently detained in Legazpi, Albay for possession of .084 gram of shabu in March 2016.

Assisted by the Public Attorney’s Office (PAO), Estipona had urged the high court to thumb down the provision in September 2016.

Though the high court has yet to release its full decision, voted on August 15, it said on Friday the provision is “unconstitutional for being contrary to the rule making authority of the [SC] in Article VIII, Section 5 (5) of the 1987 Constitution.”

In his petition, Estipona argued that “[t]hose accused of other heinous crimes such as murder, some acts of rape, and other crimes where the maximum imposable penalty is either life imprisonment, reclusion perpetua, or death, are allowed into plea bargaining under Section 1, Rule 118 of the Revised Rules on Criminal Procedure."

He lamented how those accused of violations of RA No. 9165 have not been allowed to strike plea bargain deals. Estipona’s motion for plea bargain was junked twice by the Legazpi City Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 3.

"This, despite the fact that the various pertinent violations under RA 9165 do not bare out any reason to consider a person accused under the said law as a separate and distinct specie that would exempt from plea bargaining,” his petition read.

He stressed the prohibition encroached upon the power of the high court to promulgate rules of procedure in criminal cases.

"Section 23 of RA 9165 deprives not only the accused and the prosecution, but more importantly, the courts, of the benefits of a validly entered plea bargaining agreement. It is antithetical to the early resolution of cases and declogging of court dockets, especially in instances such as this case, where the prosecution does not object and both the prosecution and defense are open to the possibility of plea bargaining," the petition read.

At the time the petition was filed, some 82,000 persons were detained on drug charges.

PAO chief Atty. Persida Acosta hailed the high court’s ruling.

"Ako ay masaya at patunay ito sa kagustuhan natin (government) na buhay ang ating mga kababayang nawawala sa landas… maipagamot at matulungang magbagong buhay.

“May pag-asa na ngayon ang 82,000 mga kababayan nating nakapiit na makalaya,” Acosta said.