Remedial Law

Salvador Estipona, Jr. vs. Judge Frank Lobrigo

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G.R. No. 226679 – 816 Phil. 789 – Remedial Law – Criminal Procedure – Plea Bargaining in Drugs Cases

Political Law – Constitutional Law – Judicial Power – Rule Making Power is vested in the Judiciary

Salvador Estipona, Jr.  was indicted for violating Section 11 (illegal possession of illegal drugs) of Republic Act No. 9165 or the Dangerous Drugs Act as he was alleged to have been caught in possession of shabu. Initially, Estipona pleaded not guilty but later, with the assistance of the Public Attorney’s Office, he filed a motion to withdraw his initial plea and with a simultaneous motion to enter into plea bargaining. The prosecution opposed the motions on the ground that plea bargaining is not allowed under Section 23 of RA 9165. Judge Frank Lobrigo, although he agreed with the points raised by Estipona, denied Estipona’s motion on the ground that what Estipona was raising was a question on the constitutionality of Section 23 of RA 9165. Judge Lobrigo opined that although Regional Trial Courts have the power to rule on the constitutionality of laws, he deemed it best not to rule on the matter as it may have potential ramifications to drugs cases pending before his sala. Hence, Estipona eventually filed a petition for certiorari.

ISSUE: Whether or not Section 23 of RA 9165 is constitutional.

HELD: No. Pursuant to Section 5 (5) of Article VIII of the 1987 Constitution, the power to promulgate rules concerning the protection and enforcement of constitutional rights, pleading, practice, and procedure in all courts belongs exclusively to the Supreme Court. Congress has no authority to repeal, alter, or supplement rules concerning pleading, practice, and procedure. Hence, Section 23 of RA 9165, an act of Congress, is unconstitutional.

Plea bargaining is a rule of procedure. 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.

SIDE ISSUE: The Solicitor-General contended that the action was improper on the grounds that: (1) the Congress should have been impleaded as an indispensable party; (2) the constitutionality of Section 23 of R.A. No. 9165 cannot be attacked collaterally; and (3) the proper recourse should have been a petition for declaratory relief before the Supreme Court or a petition for certiorari before the RTC. Is the Solicitor-General correct?

HELD: Yes. But matters of procedure and technicalities normally take a backseat when issues of substantial and transcendental importance are present (Doctrine of Transcendental Importance). In discharging its solemn duty as the final arbiter of constitutional issues, the Supreme Court shall not shirk from its obligation to determine novel issues, or issues of first impression, with far-reaching implications. hence, it can suspend the rules and decided on cases such as this.

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