Majority of the inmates at the Bohol District Jail have now opted for plea bargaining, especially those who had already spent years in jail while their cases have been pending in court.
Jail Chief Inspector Richard Tulabing of the BDJ believes this would surely decongest the jails.
Detainee population at the BDJ continued to surge amid the government’s sustained drive against illegal drugs, congesting the 400-capacity facility by 233 percent.
About 70 percent of detainees at BDJ are facing drug charges.
The situation is the same at the Tagbilaran City Rehabilitation Center (TCRC), composing more than 80 percent of the detainee population.
Detainee population at the TCRC already reached over 420 which is about 300 percent beyond its capacity.
The city jail facility only has 12 cells which can accommodate just around 140 inmates.
More than 80 percent of the inmates at he TCRC are facing drug cases.
Tulabing explained that those who had already been detained for years that are equivalent to or longer than the imposable penalty could avail of the provisions of the law that the years they had spent in jail while their cases were pending in court could be charged to the years they would have to spend in jail when convicted or when the imposable penalty would be imposed.
Opting to admit the charges for a lesser offense in plea bargaining makes this possible.
According to Tulabing, “300 to 400” inmates of BDJ opted for plea bargaining.
This number is almost half the population of inmates at BDJ and when they would be out of jail, BDJ would be decongested, he said.
Tulabing cited the Supreme Court resolution issued in April that allows drug suspects to apply for plea bargaining.
He explained that in plea bargaining, the heavier penalty for drug suspects such as life sentence can be downgraded to “possession of equipment, apparatus and other paraphernalia for dangerous drugs”, under Section 12 of Republic Act 9165 or the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002.
The imposable penalty for Section 12 is imprisonment for six months to four years and fine of P10,000-P50,000, Tulabing further explained.
He also said it is required that the accused in the drug case should not be found to be a drug dependent and the volume of dangerous drugs seized from his possession does not exceed one gram.
Many PAO lawyers defending drug suspects consider the plea bargaining as the apt option to avail of lesser penalty for cases where the accused had already been detained for a period of time equivalent or beyond the imposable penalty.
This is coupled by the continuous trial now being adopted which is intended to save the courts of time in unclogging the dockets.
Citing an instance is a court in Talibon where in one day where about 75 percent of the cases had been disposed by plea bargaining and continuous trial in one day.
The oldest in the criminal cases lined up in the calendar for presentation of prosecution evidence that day traced back to September 23, 2014 as to the date of filing.
Four were filed in 2015, four in 2016, and four in 2017.
Just as provided in the Revised Guidelines for Continuous Trial of Criminal Cases, pre-trial and arraignment had been held simultaneously.
In the continuous trial, the court could proceed with the pre-trial “despite absence of the accused” as long they were notified and their counsels and the public prosecutor were present.
After the clerk of court reads the information anew, most of the accused pleaded guilty.
By that, the decision was promulgated.
It had also been noted that the pre-trial order outlined how a case would proceed.
On the same day the pre-trial had been terminated, the pre-trial order was immediately served upon parties and counsels.
Witnesses were also presented during the arraignment.
The continuous trial and plea bargaining saved the government of the cost of lengthy and tedious litigation.
The provincial government and the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) will be constructing more jail cells inside the BDJ to address congestion.
A P10-million budget for the construction of more jail cells at the BDJ was approved by the provincial government in 2016.
The budget covers the construction of 10 more jail cells in the overcrowded detention facility where each cell can accommodate 30 to 40 inmates.
For TCRC, the BJMP national headquarter allocated P16 million for the construction of the two two-storey buildings that will have 10 cells each.
The local government donated the lot where the buildings are being constructed.
The original plan was to construct one building that is four-storey, but it was revised to make it two two-storey buildings.
This is to make the facility earthquake-proof, considering that Bohol is prone to earthquake.
The construction started in November last year and is estimated to be finished in one year.