By Rey Panaligan
The Supreme Court (SC) has reminded the country’s trial court judges “to exercise utmost caution, prudence, and judiciousness” in the issuance of temporary restraining orders (TROs) and writs of preliminary injunction.
Chief Justice Lucas P. Bersamin said the reminder also covers plea bargaining agreements in illegal drugs cases lodged with the trial courts.
Bersamin said the first SC issuance on guidelines for TROs and injunctions was done in 1999, while that on drugs cases was handed down in 2016.
The reminder was issued by the SC after President Duterte expressed concerns and apprehensions over the issuance of TROs by the courts on the government’s infrastructure projects and the approval of plea bargaining agreements in drugs cases.
Bersamin has directed Court Administrator Jose Midas P. Marquez “to look into the matters mentioned by the President.”
“The SC is encouraging anyone who may have been affected or aggrieved by the alleged issuance of questionable TROs to immediately inform the Supreme Court and file a formal complaint before the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA),” said lawyer Brian Hosaka, chief of the SC’s Public Information Office (PIO).
“Also, considering that plea bargaining is not allowed in drug cases when the quantity of the dangerous drugs is one kilo, we ask the proper authorities to report to the SC the trial judge who approved the plea bargaining for possible administrative sanction,” Hosaka also said.
A preliminary injunction is “a provisional order granted at any stage of an action or proceeding prior to the judgment or final order and it may require a party or a court, agency, or person to refrain from a particular act or acts or may require the performance of a particular act or acts.”
A TRO, on the other hand, “is an urgent order by the court temporarily forbidding the defendant or respondent to do a threatened act until a hearing on the matter at issue can be done to prevent grave injustice and irreparable injury to the applicant or petitioner.”
Through the 1999 Administrative Circular No. 07-99, the SC reminded judges to respect Presidential Decree No. 1818 which “prohibits the issuance of TROs in cases involving implementation of government infrastructure projects.”
In that circular, the SC enjoined all judges “to observe utmost caution, prudence, and judiciousness in the issuance of TRO and in the grant of writs of preliminary injunction to avoid suspicion that its issuance or grant was for considerations other than the strict merits of the case.”
The circular directed the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA) to ensure its strict implementation.
Later in year 2000, the SC issued another circular, Administrative Circular No. 11-2000, which called the attention of lower court judges “to pertinent provisions of the then recently passed Republic Act No. 8975, An Act to Ensure the Expeditious Implementation and Completion of Government Infrastructure Projects by Prohibiting Lower Courts From Issuing Temporary Restraining Orders, Preliminary Injunctions or Preliminary Mandatory Injunctions, Providing Penalties for Violations Thereof, and for Other Purposes.”
In 2003, then Court Administrator Presbitero J. Velasco Jr., who retired last year as SC associate justice, issued OCA Circular No. 79-2003 which reiterated a similar reminder to judges.
Velasco even enumerated a list of cases wherein courts are not allowed to issue TRO or writs of preliminary injunction which include, among others, government infrastructure projects.
Again in 2004, Velasco issued another circular, OCA Circular No. 23-2004, to reiterate all issuances on TROs by trial courts.
Then in 2014, the now Court Administrator Jose Midas P. Marquez issued OCA Circular No. 38-2014 “for the judicious implementation of court issuances concerning the ban on the issuance of TROs or writs preliminary injunctions involving government infrastructure projects.”
He exhorted all judges “to continuously observe and implement” all administrative issuances of the Court “to ensure that all cases involving government infrastructure projects can be resolved in a speedy and timely manner.”
On drugs cases, the issues in plea bargaining agreements were addressed through A.M. No. 18-03-16-SC, the Adoption of the Plea Barganing Framework in Drugs Cases, which guides lower court judges on the offenses falling under acceptable plea bargain agreement.
Under the circular, plea bargaining in drugs cases is allowed and probation may be availed of only in the following instances:
- “When the accused is charged with possession of dangerous drugs under Section 11 of RA 9165 (Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act) and the quantity of ‘shabu’ is less than five (5) grams or in case of marijuana, it is less than 300 grams.
- “When the accused is charged under Section 5 of RA 9165 with the sale of ‘shabu’ and the quantity found in his/her possession is less than one (1) gram; or if marijuana only, it is less than 10 grams.
- “When the accused is charged under Section 13 (Possession of Dangerous Drugs During Parties, Social Gatherings or Meetings) in relation to Section 11 of RA 9165 and the quantity of the dangerous drug in his/her possession is less than five (5) grams; or in case it is marijuana, the quantity is less than 300 grams.
- “When the accused is an employee or a visitor of a drug den, dive or resort provided that he/she is charged solely under Section 7 of RA 9165, and there is no other person charged for maintaining the said drug den, dive, or resort.”
At the same time, the circular stated that “plea bargaining is also allowed when an accused is charged with possession of ‘shabu’ weighing five (5) to 9.99 grams; or of marijuana weighing 300 to 499 grams. However, probation of the accused will not be allowed in such instances.”
The circular states that no plea bargaining is allowed in the following instances – “possession of 10 grams or more of ‘shabu,’ possession of 500 grams or more of marijuana, sale of ‘shabu,’ with a quantity of one (1) gram or more, sale of marijuana exclusively, with a quantity of 10 grams or more, and sale of all other kinds of dangerous drugs.
On May 30, 209 and July 5, 2019, Marquez issued OCA Circular No. 80-2019 and OCA Circular No. 104-2019 reiterating the strict observance by trial courts to A.M. No. 18-03-16-SC.