MANILA - Detained opposition Senator Leila de Lima has filed a measure seeking to provide clear guidelines on plea bargaining agreement in criminal cases, in light of alleged plan of the camp of pork barrel scam mastermind Janet Lim Napoles to enter into one.
Filed last February, De Lima's Senate Bill No. 1677 or the Plea Bargaining Act of 2018, calls for the need to establish concrete guideposts in the implementation of plea bargaining.
"Imbued with public interest, plea bargaining is ideally intended to primarily serve the best interest of justice, of the State and of its people, without unduly transgressing on the right of the accused to due process," De Lima said in a statement.
Under Section 2, Rule 116 of the Revised Rules of Criminal Procedure which lays down the basis for plea bargaining as “a process whereby the accused and the prosecution enter into a reciprocally satisfactory disposition of the case subject to Court approval.”
De Lima also cited reports where Napoles' camp allegedly admitted studying the possibility of filing a motion for plea bargain deal to lower her cases from plunder to a bailable offense.
“Coupled with the present administration’s softening stance on this principal accused, it will be a travesty of justice if a sweetheart deal is eventually reached which may lead to the weakening of the cases pending before the courts,” De Lima said.
On Wednesday, state prosecutors opposed the move of Napoles to be transferred to the custody of the Department of Justice (DOJ) after supposed threats against her and her provisional admission to the Witness Protection Program (WPP).
Her legal counsel, Atty. Stephen David, said in earlier reports that she has valuable information to offer the government.
Napoles is a co-accused in plunder and graft cases on trial at the Sandiganbayan.
De Lima said that the setting of guidelines, including the imposition of sanction and violation on plea bargaining "ensures that the process does not become a mere vehicle for diluting the gravity of the offense charged against the accused...and/or for creating opportunities for graft and corrupt practices."
The senator's measure proposed that in all cases, the penalty for the lesser offense to which the accused may be allowed to plead guilty shall not be more than two degrees lower than the imposable penalty for the offense charged.
As for the time of availment of the plea bargaining, De Lima said that at arraignment, the accused may be allowed to plead guilty to a lesser offense with the consent of the offended party, the prosecutors, and any additional party should be deemed necessary.
She said, the accused may also be allowed to plead guilty to a lesser offense after withdrawing a plea of not guilty to the original offense charged during the course of trial and before the presentation of evidence of the defense.
She also proposed that the prosecution may enter into plea bargaining with the accused during or after the presentation of evidence of the prosecution, but before the presentation of the defense provided that the evidence of the prosecution is insufficient to prove the offense charged.
She added that the prosecution may also enter into plea bargaining during the course of trial in cases involving the recovery by the offended party of property in crimes against property and those committed by public officers in relation to public funds and in cases of conspiracy where the accused cooperates by documentary object and testimonial evidence, among others.