Apr 5, 2021 @ 10:44

CA reverses Capiz judge’s grant of plea bargain in yet another drug case

The Court of Appeals (CA) has set aside yet another order by Roxas City, Capiz, Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 18 Judge Ignacio Alajar that granted a plea bargaining proposal by accused drug pushers without the consent of the prosecutors.

In a 10-page decision on CA G.R. SP No. 13404, the CA 19th Division granted the petition of prosecutors questioning Alajar’s September 16, 2019 order that downgraded the case against Ted Angelo Vidal, alias “Bongbong.”

This annulled the RTC’s conviction of Vidal for the lesser offense of use of dangerous drugs and possession of drug paraphernalia, for which he was meted a relatively lighter punishment of six months of counseling and imprisonment for 2 years and 4 months to a maximum of 3 years plus a P10,000 fine.

The CA directed the lower court to proceed with his trial for the original charges of possession of dangerous drugs and possession of drug paraphernalia.

If found guilty of possession of 0.4166 grams of shabu, he could be sentenced to 12 to 20 years in prison and slapped with a fine of at least P300,000; this was on top of sentence of 2 to 3 years and P10,000 fine for possession of shabu paraphernalia.

Vidal initially pleaded not guilty to both possession charges. But, after the trial was held, he offered to plead guilty to possession of drug paraphernalia if the case for possession of dangerous drugs was downgraded to just use of dangerous drugs.

Records showed that Judge Alajar granted Vidal’s plea bargaining proposal over the prosecutor’s objection that they presented sufficient evidence for his conviction during the trial.

The CA, however, stressed that plea bargaining should be a mutual agreement between the parties and “the consent of the accused, the offended party, and the prosecutor is necessary before a plea bargain offer may be allowed by trial courts.”

Citing the Supreme Court’s (SC) February 18, 2020 decision on Sayre versus Honorable Xenos (G.R. No. 244413), the CA noted that the prosecution may validly withhold its consent on the basis of Department of Justice (DOJ) Circular Number 027.

The CA said A.M. No. 18-03-16-SC, which allowed plea bargains in drug cases, “did not dispense with the requirements of consent by the public prosecutor and the offended party (which, in all criminal cases, is the State).”

“Since mutual agreement, the essence of plea bargaining, has not been achieved, the very allowance by the court a quo of the private respondent’s Proposal for Plea Bargaining had no basis in fact and in law,” read the decision penned by Associate Justice Lorenza Bordios.

“Manifest disregard of basic rules and procedure constitutes grave abuse of discretion and is sufficient cause for the issuance of the corrective writ of certiorari,” it added.

Associate Justices Pamela Ann Abella Maxino and Bautista Corpin, Jr., concurred in the decision.

The CA Special 18th Division had also overturned a similar grant of plea bargain by Judge Alajar in the case of Mary Jane de Asis (alias Bebe Love) and Anthony Eduardo (CA-G.R. SP No. 13111).

The said decision was penned by Associate Justice Dorothy Montejo-Gonzaga and concurred in by Associate Justices Gabriel Ingles and Roberto Quiroz. #

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