SC approves plea bargain in drug raps
THE Supreme Court has ruled with finality to allow plea bargains in drug cases.
During its en banc session on Tuesday, the Court upheld its ruling last August that declared as unconstitutional the prohibition against plea bargaining in Republic Act No. 9165 or the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002.
The high court dismissed with finality for lack of merit the motion for reconsideration filed by prosecutors in the case involving Salvador Estipona versus Legaspi City Regional Trial Court Branch 3 Judge Frank Lobrigo.
The ruling means those accused in drug-related offenses may now plead guilty to a lesser offense, provided the prosecutor allows it.
Estipona was reportedly caught in possession of .084 grams of methamphetamine hydrochloride or shabu. He was charged for violation of Section 11, Article 2 of RA 9165.
Estipona, represented by the Public Attorney’s Office, questioned Lobrigo’s decision to deny his motion for a plea bargain agreement before the Supreme Court.
Last year, PAO chief Persida Rueda-Acosta said over 82,000 small-time drug offenders have been rotting in prisons.
Also on Tuesday, the Supreme Court ordered the Philippine National Police to file its comment on two new petitions seeking to compel the Duterte administration to stop its war on drugs.
In an en banc session Tuesday, the Court resolved to require PNP chief Director General Ronald dela Rosa and other respondents from the police force and Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency to comment on similar petitions filed last month by human rights groups Free Legal Assistance Group and Center for International Law.
The Court gave them 10 days to comply with the order.
The order came as the tribunal consolidated the two petitions and set oral arguments on Nov. 21.
In its petition, FLAG asked the Court to issue a temporary restraining order stopping the implementation of PNP Command Memorandum Circular No. 16-2016 or “Oplan Double Barrel.”
The human rights group asked the tribunal to enjoin the PNP from further carrying out earlier instructions and pronouncements of President Duterte on the drug war, which were not formally put in a proper written executive order.
According to the group, the war on drugs “violates the right to life, to due process of law, to be presumed innocent and to a fair trial by expressly authorizing the summary killing of suspected drug offenders in the guise of “neutralizing” them.
The group also argued that the war on drugs, where over 7,000 individuals had been killed in both police operations and supposed vigilante killings, “violates the right to due process of law, to be presumed innocent, and to a fair trial by doing away with the basic police duty of evidence-gathering and case build-up.”
FLAG said that house-to-house visits being conducted by PNP were unconstitutional because “they are not limited to drug suspects and based on furtive fingers of unknown informants.”
It also assailed the Department of the Interior and Local Government’s Memorandum Circular 2017-112, or the “Masa Masid” project, which allows citizens to report any person who may be involved in narcotics to drop boxes put up in some barangays.
The group likened this practice to the Japanese Occupation in the Philippines and the secret police of Nazi Germany during World War II.
FLAG filed the petition for two victims of extrajudicial killings identified as Ryan Dave Almora and Rex Appari and a survivor identified as Jefferson Soriano in police anti-narcotics operations.
In the same petition, FLAG sought issuance of writ of Amparo and temporary protection order prohibiting police authorities from getting near the residents or work places of the families of petitioners.
Almora and Aparri were shot dead during a home invasion in relation to the campaign against drugs, while Soriano survived an alleged summary execution attempt.
On the other hand, CenterLaw filed its writ of Amparo petition for families of 35 alleged drug suspects killed in anti-narcotics operations of police over the past year and other residents of San Andres Bukid district in Manila.
The group sought issuance of a temporary protection order prohibiting police from getting near the residences and workplaces of the families of the 35 slain drug suspects.
It also sought to prohibit the respondents from harassing, contacting or communicating with the affected parties, directly or indirectly.
For the residents of 26 barangays in San Andres Bukid, petitioners asked the SC to prohibit police from coercing barangay officials from coming up with or submitting a list of any alleged drug users, pushers or trouble-makers within the community.
They urged the tribunal to first compel authorities to comply with the constitutional requirements of due process, the requirements of the Data Privacy Act, and regulatory assurance against arbitrariness and criminal machination.
The petition cited the systematic violence allegedly perpetrated by members of the Manila Police District Station 6 over the urban poor community of San Andres Bukid and its adjacent areas.
Lastly, petitioners asked the Court to enjoin the respondents from conducting any anti-illegal drugs operations in San Andres Bukid without the required coordination and presence of representatives from the barangay, the PDEA and the media.
Earlier, similar petitions against the war on drugs have been filed before the Court.