SC upholds ruling allowing plea bargain in drug cases

MANILA — The Supreme Court (SC) on Tuesday affirmed its ruling allowing plea bargain deals in drug cases.

The high court denied with finality the motion for reconsideration filed by prosecutors in the case involving Salvador Estipona against Legaspi City Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 3 Judge Frank Lobrigo.

SC spokesman Theodore Te, in a briefing, announced the directive was issued following Tuesday’s regular en banc session of the magistrates.

The high court affirmed its ruling last August that declared as unconstitutional the prohibition against plea bargaining stipulated in Republic Act 9165 or the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002.

With this final ruling, accused in drug-related offenses can now plead guilty to a lesser offense, provided that it is allowed by the prosecutor.

“The Court’s decision of August 15, 2017 struck section 23 of RA 9165 (which had prohibited plea bargaining in all proceedings involving the violation bargaining in all proceedings involving the violation of the Dangerous Drugs Law) as unconstitutional for being contrary to the rule-making authority of the court,” Te said.

The Public Attorneys Office (PAO) took the issue to the SC after the Legazpi RTC denied the request of Salvador A. Estipona Jr. who was charged with illegal possession of one sachet of shabu, to enter into a plea bargaining agreement since it is prohibited under Section 23 of R.A. 9165.

Estipona was charged with violation of the Dangrous Drugs Act for possession of one sachet or 0.084 grams of shabu.

Under the law, plea bargaining means an accused will plead guilty to a lesser offense with the consent of the prosecutor.

The Court stood firm in its earlier finding that Section 23 of RA 9165 was contrary to Article 8, Section 5 (5) of the 1987 Constitution giving the SC the authority to allow plea bargaining.

The said provision stated that any person charged under any provision of law – regardless of the imposable penalty – shall be denied plea bargaining or pleading guilty to a lesser offense with the consent of the prosecutor.

This section guarantees “protection and enforcement of constitutional rights, pleading, practice and procedure in all courts, the admission to the practice of law, the integrated bar and legal assistance to the underprivileged.”

PAO chief Persida Rueda Acosta welcomed the high court’s decision and the government’s move on the rehabilitation of the 82,000 inmates if contaminated of illegal regulated drugs prior to plea bargaining.

“The 10,000 capacity-rehabilitation facility in Nueva Ecija can now be filled up with positively identified contaminated inmates,” Acosta noted.

Last year, Acosta said over 82,000 small time drug offenders have been rotting in prisons.

She explained that many criminal cases are resolved out of court due to practical reasons such as to avoid the time and costs of trial.