Supreme Court allows plea bargaining in drug cases
MANILA, Philippines – The Supreme Court (SC) now allows plea bargaining in cases of violation of the drugs law, it announced on Friday, September 8.
"The Court declared Section 23 of Republic Act 9165, which prohibits plea bargaining for all drug offenses, to be unconstitutional for being contrary to the rule making authority of the Supreme Court in Article VIII, Section 5(5) of the Constitution," the announcement said.
The petition was filed a year ago by drug respondent Salvador Estipona Jr, who was caught in possession of 0.084 grams of shabu. He wanted to enter into a plea bargaining agreement but was rejected by the Legazpi City Regional Trial Court (RTC) because RA 9165 specifically prohibits violators of the law to plead to a bargain.
Plea bargaining is when you plead guilty to a lesser offense, so you get a lighter sentence.
Estipona argued that the government could benefit from allowing plea bargaining in drugs cases. For one, he said, instead of spending P1.49 billion a year providing public lawyers to 82,000 small time drug suspects, the state could just allow them to serve lesser years and reform themselves.
Legal expert Antonio La Viña said this is a good development to declog the courts, especially those designated to exclusively handle drug cases. Center for International Law's Rommel Bagares said the prohibition was a violation of rights in the first place. (READ: Create special court for drug war's collateral victims, SC asked)
"One may have massacred 10 people and yet qualify for plea bargain. But not a person arrested for possessing 500 grams of marijuana," Bagares said.
In the context of the government's war on drugs, could this new legal window be used by big-time drug suppliers to get away with charges? "That's also possible," La Viña said.
But another perspective is offered by the the United States' Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs. Plea bargaining, according to them, can actually be used to go after the big fish.
They said in their 2016 narcotics control strategy report of Nigeria, "Without an appropriate plea bargaining mechanism, [Nigeria] encounters difficulty winning cooperation from low-level couriers to build cases against criminal gang bosses." – Rappler.com