Opposition Senator Leila M. de Lima has filed a measure seeking to provide clear guidelines on plea bargaining agreement in criminal cases to avoid abuse of the process by the accused and ensure that it is done in the interest of’ justice and of the public.
In filing Senate Bill No. 1677, to be known as the Plea-Bargaining Act of 2018, De Lima stressed the urgent need for the development of a formal policy to establish concrete guideposts in the implementation of plea bargaining.
“Imbued with public interest, plea bargaining is ideally intended to primarily serve the best interest of justice, of the State and of its people, without unduly transgressing on the right of the accused to due process,” she said.
However, she added, “our own history proves witness to the unfortunate misuse and abuse of the process, often to the great disadvantage of the Filipino people.”
Section 2, Rule 116 of the Revised Rules of Criminal Procedure lays down the basis for plea bargaining as “a process whereby the accused and the prosecution enter into a reciprocally satisfactory disposition of the case subject to Court approval.”
De Lima cited 2017 reports where the camp of pork barrel scam mastermind Janet Lim-Napoles admitted that they were studying the possibility of filing a motion for plea bargain deal to lower Napoles’ cases from plunder to a bailable offense.
“Coupled with the present administration’s softening stance on this principal accused, it will be a travesty of justice if a sweetheart deal is eventually reached which may lead to the weakening of the cases pending before the courts,” she noted.
De Lima, a lawyer by profession, explained that the setting of guidelines, including the imposition of sanction and violation on plea bargaining “ensures that the process does not become a mere vehicle for diluting the gravity of the offense charged against the accused… and/or for creating opportunities for graft and corrupt practices.”
Under SB 1677, De Lima noted that plea bargaining should be in accordance with several principles, such as its initial consideration and final terms should both primarily contribute to the benefit of the public, and shall not be pursued when it will only serve to tone down the seriousness of the offense charged against the accused.
The Senator’s measure likewise proposed that in all cases, the penalty for the lesser offense to which the accused may be allowed to plead guilty shall not be more than two degrees lower than the imposable penalty for the offense charged.
De Lima also laid down rules when it comes to the time of availment of plea bargaining. She suggested that at arraignment, the accused may be allowed to plead guilty to a lesser offense with the consent of the offended party, the prosecutor, and any additional party should be deemed necessary.
The accused may also be allowed to plead guilty to a lesser offense after withdrawing a plea of not guilty to the original offense charged during the course of trial and before the presentation of evidence of the defense, according to the former justice secretary.
De Lima also proposed under SB No. 1677 that the prosecution may enter into plea bargaining with the accused during or after the presentation of the evidence of the prosecution, but before the presentation of the evidence of the defense, provided that the evidence of the prosecution is insufficient to prove the offense charged.
She added that the prosecution may also enter into plea bargaining during the course of trial in cases involving the recovery by the offended party of property in crimes against property and those committed by public officers in relation to public funds and in cases of conspiracy where the accused cooperates by documentary object and testimonial evidence, among others.
Under SB No. 1677, De Lima recommended that the plea bargaining agreement shall first be approved by required authorities listed in the measure if the penalty imposable for the offense charged is prision mayor, or six years and one day imprisonment, or higher, or a fine exceeding 1,200,000.00 pesos.