Stop plea bargain for drug offenders

By Ermin Garcia Jr.

WEEKS ago, the dilemma of Dagupan City police chief, P/Lt. Col. Abubakar Mengelen Jr. caught my attention. He wondered why he was seeing the same persons being arrested

in buy-bust operations. How was that possible, he asked. Indeed, how?

When he looked into it, the persons who were arrested the second time were the suspects who availed of the plea bargain, a court process that the drug syndicates exploited to keep their drug distribution network intact. How so?

Perhaps unknown to many, the Supreme Court has adopted a new plea bargaining framework that a trial court can accept.  (Plea bargaining is an agreement in a criminal case reached by prosecutor and defendant where the latter who pleads guilty receives  a reduced jail sentence of lower fines, and made to comply with certain terms for his probationary release.

Specific terms are imposed in the severity of the case of confessed drug personalities: The range of plea bargain depends on the amount of shabu or marijuana found in the possession of the suspect.

For instance,

  1. For sale, trading, administration, delivery, distribution, and transportation of ‘shabu ‘ or marijuana, and the quantity is .01 gram to .99 grams, the plea bargain deal is six months and a day to four years imprisonment and a fine ranging from P10,000 to P50,000.
  2.  Where the quantity of shabu is a gram and above or 10 grams of marijuana, no plea bargain is allowed.
  3. For possession of dangerous drugs where the quantity of ‘shabu,’ opium, morphine, heroin, or cocaine is less than five grams, the acceptable plea bargain deal is imprisonment for six months and a day to four years and a fine ranging from P10,000 to P50,000.
  4. For possession marijuana whose quantity is less than 300 grams, the acceptable plea bargain deal is the same as the above offense.

The range of penalty increases as the volume increases.  

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HOW IT WORKS. But plea bargain can be availed of only once, a judge told me.

Procedurally, after the approval of plea bargain, the accused applies for probation and is not released from jail until the application for probation is approved. If after completion of the service of sentence on probation, the accused transfers to another place, becomes a pusher again and gets arrested, he can no longer avail of the plea bargain because the Probation Office will not approve an Application for Probation of a person previously convicted.

He might attempt to apply for plea bargain but once he applies for probation again, the Probation Office will ultimately deny it and the accused, therefore, stays in jail.

That’s the leniency of the court that the drug syndicates have been exploiting. Note that without the plea bargain, drug offenders could be meted life imprisonment!

So what are the usual terms for plea bargain?

The deal requires the drug offender to undergo rehabilitation normally for 6 months, the barangay chairman takes cognizance of the plea bargain and requires the drug offender to report to the barangay on specific days.

And if the volume of drugs found in his possession is at the lowest level, the drug offender usually does not have to serve sentence. Or if at all, serve at least six months only. 

But just like the experience in Dagupan City, several drug offenders who availed of the plea bargain in other cities and released through the plea deal have been landing in jail again for drug charges.

Worse, knowing that plea bargain violators will have no more chance if caught again, they become more desperate if busted. They fight it out with police operatives. This was the case of one drug offender who availed of plea bargain but was busted while on probation.  The suspect shot it out, and being outnumbered, he was shot dead.

In answer to Mr. Mangelen’s dilemma, it might help him to know what’s before him by making an inventory of how many drug suspects have been released by the courts based on approved plea bargains.

For instance,
100 drug offenders detained at the Bohol District Jail (BDJ) have been released through the Supreme Court-mandated plea bargaining agreement framework. Could there be more in Dagupan City?

For Mr. Mangelen, it certainly would help him know how many will he be arresting for the second time, or encounter in a shoot-out with his operatives in the months ahead.

*                *                *                *

WHO BENEFITS? Knowing these, is the plea bargain for drug offenders a good idea? I strongly doubt that especially if the arrested drug pusher or user has been arrested for other crimes in the past.

Then, drug syndicates will always lure a trained pusher on probation to “return to work” with promises of more pay-offs. 

So what good will the plea bargain framework for the government’s war on drugs? Except for helping decongest all the overly congested jails in the country, absolutely nothing!

The plea bargain is working for drug syndicates’ benefit, making it doubly difficult for government to win the war on drugs.

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