The Supreme Court, during its En Banc deliberations on Tuesday, July 26, 2022, reaffirmed the primacy and exclusivity of its rule-making power under the Constitution, and guaranteed its precedence in governing over the plea bargaining process in drugs cases.
In the consolidated cases of People v. Montierro, (G.R No. 254564), Baldadera v. People (G.R. No. 254564); and Re: Letter of the Philippine Judges Association Expressing its Concern over the Ramifications of the Decisions in G.R. No. 247575 and G.R. No. 250295 (A.M. No. 21-07-16-SC), the Supreme Court En Banc underscored the stability and independence of the Court and its rule-making power in resolving the conflict between Department of Justice (DOJ) Circular No. 27, which prohibits plea bargaining for illegal sale of dangerous drugs to the lesser offense of illegal possession of drug paraphernalia under Republic Act No. 9165, or the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002, and the SC’s Resolution in A.M. No. 18-03-16-SC adopting the Plea Bargaining Framework in Drugs Cases.
Holding that plea bargaining in the prosecution of drugs cases goes into the very matters of fundamental constitutional rights, the Court resolved to clarify the guidelines it earlier issued in A.M. No. 18-03-16-SC, dated April 10, 2018. Hence, while the Supreme Court takes judicial notice of the DOJ’s efforts to amend DOJ Circular No. 27 to conform with the Plea Bargaining Framework in Drugs Cases, the Court nevertheless issues the following guidelinesfor the guidance of both the Bench and the Bar:
- Offers for plea bargaining must be initiated in writing by way of a formal written motion filed by the accused in court.
- The lesser offense which the accused proposes to plead guilty to must necessarily be included in the offense charged.
- Upon receipt of the proposal for plea bargaining that is compliant with the provisions of the Court’s Plea Bargaining Framework in Drugs Cases, the judge shall order that a drug dependency assessment be administered. If the accused admits drug use, or denies it but is found positive after a drug dependency test, then he/she shall undergo treatment and rehabilitation for a period of not less than six (6) months. Said period shall be credited to his/her penalty and the period of his/her after-care and follow-up program if the penalty is still unserved. If the accused is found negative for drug use/dependency, then he/she will be released on time served, otherwise, he/she will serve his/her sentence in jail minus the counselling period at the rehabilitation center.
- As a rule, plea bargaining requires the mutual agreement of the parties and remains subject to the approval of the court. Regardless of the mutual agreement of the parties, the acceptance of the offer to plead guilty to a lesser offense is not demandable by the accused as a matter of right but is a matter addressed entirely to the sound discretion of the court.
- Though the prosecution and the defense may agree to enter into a plea bargain, it does not follow that the courts will automatically approve the proposal. Judges must still exercise sound discretion in granting or denying plea bargaining, taking into account the relevant circumstances, including the character of the accused.
- The court shall not allow plea bargaining if the objection to the plea bargaining is valid and supported by evidence to the effect that:
- the offender is a recidivist, habitual offender, known in the community as a drug addict and a troublemaker, has undergone rehabilitation but had a relapse, or has been charged many times; or
- when the evidence of guilt is strong.
- Plea bargaining in drugs cases shall not be allowed when the proposed plea bargain does not conform to the Court-issued Plea Bargaining Framework in Drugs Cases.
- Judges may overrule the objection of the prosecution if it is based solely on the ground that the accused’s plea bargaining proposal is inconsistent with the acceptable plea bargain under any internal rules or guidelines of the DOJ, though in accordance with the plea bargaining framework issued by the Court, if any.
- If the prosecution objects to the accused’s plea bargaining proposal due tothe circumstances enumerated in item no. 5, the trial court is mandated tohear the prosecution’s objection and rule on the merits thereof. If the trialcourt finds the objection meritorious, it shall order the continuation of the criminal proceedings.
- If an accused applies for probation in offenses punishable under RA No. 9165, other than for illegal drug trafficking or pushing under Section 5 in relation to Section 24 thereof, then the law on probation shall apply.
The Supreme Court Public Information Office will upload a copy of the Court’s Decision to the SC website once it receives an official copy from the Office of the Clerk Court En Banc. ###