SC Reminds Judges of Court Issuances on Plea Bargaining and TROs

July 18, 2019

The Supreme Court (SC) has reiterated its En Banc resolution in A.M. No. 18-03-16-SC or the Adoption of the Plea Bargaining Framework in Drug Cases, which guides lower court judges on the offenses falling under acceptable plea bargain agreement.

This, as the SC also reminded all trial court judges to be mindful of the existing court issuances, the earliest one having been issued two decades ago in 1999, directing them “to exercise with utmost caution, prudence, and judiciousness” in issuing temporary restraining orders (TROs) and writs of preliminary injunctions.

The reiteration came in light of President Rodrigo Duterte’s earlier statements questioning the purported issuances by courts of TROs on his administration’s infrastructure projects, as well as the approval of plea bargaining in drug cases.

          SC Spokesperson and Public Information Office Chief Atty. Brian Hosaka said that Chief Justice Lucas P. Bersamin has directed Court Administrator Jose Midas P. Marquez to look into the matters mentioned by the President.

“The SC is encouraging anyone who may have been affected or aggrieved by the alleged issuance of questionable TROs to immediately inform the Supreme Court and file a formal complaint before the Office of the Court Administrator. Also, considering that plea bargaining is not allowed in drug cases when the quantity of the dangerous drugs is one kilo, we ask the proper authorities to report to the SC the trial judge who approved the plea bargaining for possible administrative sanction. As always, the SC will not take this matter lightly. All trial judges must strictly adhere to all related issuances and circulars on plea bargaining framework in drugs cases,” said Atty. Hosaka who underscored that the Court has been incessantly addressing these matters with the issuance of pertinent circulars.

The Court, in separate resolutions in A.M. No. 18-03-16-SC issued in 2018 and 2019, held, among others, that plea bargaining in drugs cases is allowed and probation may be availed of only in the following instances:

  1. When the accused is charged with possession of dangerous drugs under Section 11 of RA 9165 and the quantity of “shabu” is less than 5 grams or in case of marijuana, it is less than 300 grams.
  2. When the accused is charged under Section 5 of RA 9165 with the sale of “shabu” and the quantity found in his/her possession is less than 1 gram; or if marijuana only, it is less than 10 grams.
  3. When the accused is charged under Section 13 (Possession of Dangerous Drugs During Parties, Social Gatherings or Meetings) in relation to Section 11 of RA 9165 and the quantity of the dangerous drug in his/her possession is less than 5 grams; or in case it is marijuana, the quantity is less than 300 grams.
  4. When the accused is an employee or a visitor of a drug den, dive or resort provided that he/she is charged solely under Section 7 of RA 9165, and there is no other person charged for maintaining the said drug den, dive, or resort.               

Plea Bargaining is also allowed when an accused is charged with possession of “shabu” weighing 5 to 9.99 grams; or of marijuana weighing 300 to 499 grams. However, probation of the accused will not be allowed in such instances.  

No plea bargaining is allowed in the following instances:

a. Possession of 10 grams or more of “shabu.”

b. Possession of 500 grams or more of marijuana.

c. Sale of “shabu” exclusively, with a quantity of 1.00 gram or more.

d. Sale of marijuana exclusively, with a quantity of 10 grams or more.

e. Sale of all other kinds of dangerous drugs.

OCA Circular No. 80-2019 and OCA Circular No. 104-2019 were subsequently issued by Court Administrator Marquez on May 30, 2019 and July 5, 2019, respectively, reiterating to all second level courts the strict observance to the said A.M. No. 18-03-16-SC.

As for the purported TROs on the government projects, the SC had already addressed this issue way back in 1999 when the SC issued Administrative Circular No. 07-99, upon the request of then President Joseph Estrada, “reminding judges to respect P.D. No. 1818, which prohibits the issuance of TROs in cases involving implementation of government infrastructure projects.”

The SC enjoined all judges “to observe utmost caution, prudence and judiciousness in the issuance of TRO and in the grant of writs of preliminary injunction to avoid suspicion that its issuance or grant was for considerations other than the strict merits of the case.” The Office of the Court Administrator (OCA) was directed to disseminate the same and to monitor its implementation.

This 1999 circular was reinforced by with the subsequent issuance of Administrative Circular No. 11-2000 calling the attention of lower court judges to pertinent provisions of the then recently passed Republic Act No. 8975, An Act to Ensure the Expeditious Implementation and Completion of Government Infrastructure Projects by Prohibiting Lower Courts From Issuing Temporary Restraining Orders, Preliminary Injunctions or Preliminary Mandatory Injunctions, Providing Penalties for Violations Thereof, and for Other Purposes.

In 2003, then Court Administrator (who later became SC Associate Justice) Presbitero J. Velasco, Jr. issued OCA Circular No. 79-2003 to make a similar reminder to all lower court judges. Court Administrator Velasco even cited a list of cases wherein courts are not allowed to issue TRO or writs of preliminary injunction which include, among others, government infrastructure projects. The following year, he issued OCA Circular No. 23-2004 to reiterate all these court issuances regarding reminders in the issuance TROs by trial courts.

In 2014, Court Administrator Marquez issued OCA Circular No. 38-2014 for the judicious implementation of court issuances concerning the ban on the issuance of TROs or writs preliminary injunctions involving government infrastructure projects. He exhorted all judges of the first and second level courts “to continuously observe and implement” all administrative issuances of the Court “to ensure that all cases involving government infrastructure projects can be resolved in a speedy and timely manner.”