The Supreme Court has struck down as unconstitutional a provision in Republic Act (RA) 9165 or the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act which prohibits plea bargaining in drug-related cases.
In a 21-page en banc decision penned by Associate Justice Diosdado Peralta, the high court granted the petition of Salvador Estipona, Jr. who is facing a charge for possession of 0.084 gram of shabu in March 2016.
Plea bargaining is a process in which an accused in a drug-related offense negotiates with prosecutors to be allowed to plead guilty to a lesser offense.
The SC reasoned that Section 23 of RA 9165, which prohibits plea bargaining in drug-related cases, violates the equal protection clause of the 1987 Constitution.
It also maintained that the said provision is “unconstitutional for being contrary to the rule making authority of the [SC] in Article VIII, Section 5 (5) of the 1987 Constitution.”
Estipona was represented by the Public Attorney’s Office (PAO), which filed a petition before the SC in September 2016 to challenge the ruling of Branch 3 of the Regional Trial Court of Legazpi City which denied Estipona’s motion to be allowed to enter into plea bargaining.
The PAO, led by Chief Public Attorney Persida Acosta, cited that it is only in drug cases where plea bargaining is not allowed.
It argued that the provision must be stricken down “as no reasonable classification exists to classify violators of the anti-drugs law from violators of other criminal laws, be if offenses listed in the Revised Penal Code, or other special criminal laws.”
Acosta said prisoners facing drug-related charges continue to increase every year, contributing largely to jail congestion.
She noted that allowing plea bargaining in such charges would help decongest the country’s jails.