G.R. No. 226679 —
SALVADOR ESTIPONA, JR. y ASUELA, Petitioner,
HON. FRANK E. LOBRIGO, Presiding Judge of the Regional Trial Court, Branch 3, Legazpi City, Albay, and PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, Respondents.
Petitioner Salvador A. Estipona, Jr. (Estipona) is the accused in Criminal Case No. 13586 for violation of Section 11, Article II of R.A. No. 9165 (Possession of Dangerous Drug)
On June 15, 2016, Estipona filed a Motion to Allow the Accused to Enter into a Plea Bargaining Agreement,praying to withdraw his not guilty plea and, instead, to enter a plea of guilty for violation of Section 12, Article II of R.A. No. 9165 (Possession of Equipment, Instrument, Apparatus and Other Paraphernalia for Dangerous Drugs) with a penalty of rehabilitation in view of his being a first-time offender and the minimal quantity of the dangerous drug seized in his possession. He argued that Section 23 of R.A. No. 9165 violates: (1) the intent of the law expressed in paragraph 3, Section 2 thereof; (2) the rule-making authority of the Supreme Court under Section 5(5), Article VIII of the 1987 Constitution; and (3) the principle of separation of powers among the three equal branches of the government.
The prosecution moved for the denial of the motion for being contrary to Section 23 of R.A. No. 9165, which is said to be justified by the Congress’ prerogative to choose which offense it would allow plea bargaining. Later, in a Comment or Opposition dated June 29, 2016, it manifested that it “is open to the Motion of the accused to enter into plea bargaining to give life to the intent of the law as provided in paragraph 3, Section 2 of [R.A. No.] 9165, however, with the express mandate of Section 23 of [R.A. No.] 9165 prohibiting plea bargaining, [it] is left without any choice but to reject the proposal of the accused.”
WHETHER SECTION 23 OF REPUBLIC ACT NO. 9165, WHICH PROHIBITS PLEA BARGAINING IN ALL VIOLATIONS OF THE SAID LAW, IS UNCONSTITUTIONAL.
YES. The power to promulgate rules of pleading, practice and procedure is now in the exclusive domain of the Supreme Court and no longer shared with the Executive and Legislative departments. The separation of powers among the three co-equal branches of our government has erected an impregnable wall that keeps the power to promulgate rules of pleading, practice and procedure within the sole province of this Court. The other branches trespass upon this prerogative if they enact laws or issue orders that effectively repeal, alter or modify any of the procedural rules promulgated by the Court. Viewed from this perspective, the Supreme Court has rejected previous attempts on the part of the Congress, in the exercise of its legislative power, to amend the Rules of Court.
In this jurisdiction, plea bargaining has been defined as “a process whereby the accused and the prosecution work out a mutually satisfactory disposition of the case subject to court approval.” There is give-and-take negotiation common in plea bargaining. The essence of the agreement is that both the prosecution and the defense make concessions to avoid potential losses. Properly administered, plea bargaining is to be encouraged because the chief virtues of the system – speed, economy, and finality – can benefit the accused, the offended party, the prosecution, and the court.
Considering the presence of mutuality of advantage, the rules on plea bargaining neither create a right nor take away a vested right. Instead, it operates as a means to implement an existing right by regulating the judicial process for enforcing rights and duties recognized by substantive law and for justly administering remedy and redress for a disregard or infraction of them.
The decision to plead guilty is often heavily influenced by the defendant’s appraisal of the prosecution’s case against him and by the apparent likelihood of securing leniency should a guilty plea be offered and accepted. In any case, whether it be to the offense charged or to a lesser crime, a guilty plea is a “serious and sobering occasion” inasmuch as it constitutes a waiver of the fundamental rights to be presumed innocent until the contrary is proved, to be heard by himself and counsel, to meet the witnesses face to face, to bail (except those charged with offenses punishable by reclusion perpetua when evidence of guilt is strong), to be convicted by proof beyond reasonable doubt, and not to be compelled to be a witness against himself.
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