The accused, Edgar Allan Ubalde and Michael Padua, a minor, seventeen (17) years old, sold, delivered and gave away to PO1 Roland A. Panis, a police poseur-buyer, one (1) folded newsprint containing 4.86 grams of marijuana.
Padua’s counsel manifested that his client was willing to withdraw his plea of not guilty and enter a plea of guilty to avail of the benefits granted to first-time offenders under Section 70 of Rep. Act No. 9165. The prosecutor interposed no objection. Thus, Padua was re-arraigned and pleaded guilty. He was sentenced to suffer an indeterminate sentence of six (6) years and one (1) day of Prision Mayor as minimum to seventeen (17) years and four (4) months of reclusion temporal as maximum and a fine of P500,000.00.
Padua subsequently filed a Petition for Probation alleging that he is a minor and a first-time offender who desires to avail of the benefits of probation under Presidential Decree No. 968 (P.D. No. 968), otherwise known as “The Probation Law of 1976” and Section 70 of Rep. Act No. 9165. He further alleged that he possesses all the qualifications and none of the disqualifications under the said laws. However, Judge Agnes Reyes-Carpio issued an Order denying the Petition for Probation on the ground that under Section 24 of Rep. Act No. 9165, any person convicted of drug trafficking cannot avail of the privilege granted by the Probation Law.
Whether or not the court acted without jurisdiction or with grave abuse of discretion on its decision denying Padua’s petition for probation. won the petition for probation filed by Padua, a minor, be granted?
RTC neither acted without jurisdiction nor with grave abuse of discretion because it merely applied the law and adhered to principles of statutory construction in denying Padua’s petition for probation.
It is clear under Section 24 of Rep. Act No. 9165 that any person convicted of drug trafficking cannot avail of the privilege of probation, to wit:
SEC. 24. Non-Applicability of the Probation Law for Drug Traffickers and Pushers. – Any person convicted for drug trafficking or pushing under this Act, regardless of the penalty imposed by the Court, cannot avail of the privilege granted by the Probation Law or Presidential Decree No. 968, as amended. (Emphasis supplied.)
The law is clear and leaves no room for interpretation. Any person convicted for drug trafficking or pushing, regardless of the penalty imposed, cannot avail of the privilege granted by the Probation Law or P.D. No. 968. If a statute is clear, plain and free from ambiguity, it must be given its literal meaning and applied without attempted interpretation. This is what is known as the plain-meaning rule or verba legis. It is expressed in the maxim, index animi sermo, or speech is the index of intention. Furthermore, there is the maxim verba legis non est recedendum, or from the words of a statute there should be no departure.
The intention of the legislators in Section 24 of Rep. Act No. 9165 is to provide stiffer and harsher punishment for those persons convicted of drug trafficking or pushing while extending a sympathetic and magnanimous hand in Section 70 to drug dependents who are found guilty of violation of Sections 11 and 15 of the Act. The law considers the users and possessors of illegal drugs as victims while the drug traffickers and pushers as predators. Hence, while drug traffickers and pushers, like Padua, are categorically disqualified from availing the law on probation, youthful drug dependents, users and possessors alike, are given the chance to mend their ways. The CA also correctly stated that had it been the intention of the legislators to exempt from the application of Section 24 the drug traffickers and pushers who are minors and first time offenders, the law could have easily declared so.
A person arrested for using illegal or dangerous drugs is meted only a penalty of 6 months rehabilitation in a government center, as minimum, for the first offense under Section 15 of Rep. Act No. 9165, while a person charged and convicted of selling dangerous drugs shall suffer life imprisonment to death and a fine ranging from P500,000.00 to P10,000,000.00 under Section 5, Rep. Act No. 9165.
Padua’s right under Rep. Act No. 9344, the “Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act of 2006” was not violated. Nor can he argue that Section 32 of A.M. No. 02-1-18-SC otherwise known as the “Rule on Juveniles in Conflict with the Law” has application in this case. Section 68 of Rep. Act No. 9344 and Section 32 of A.M. No. 02-1-18-SC both pertain to suspension of sentence and not probation.
Furthermore, suspension of sentence under Section 38 of Rep. Act No. 9344 could no longer be retroactively applied for petitioner’s benefit. Section 38 of Rep. Act No. 9344 provides that once a child under 18 years of age is found guilty of the offense charged, instead of pronouncing the judgment of conviction, the court shall place the child in conflict with the law under suspended sentence. Section 40 of Rep. Act No. 9344, however, provides that once the child reaches 18 years of age, the court shall determine whether to discharge the child, order execution of sentence, or extend the suspended sentence for a certain specified period or until the child reaches the maximum age of 21 years. Petitioner has already reached 21 years of age or over and thus, could no longer be considered a child for purposes of applying Rep. Act 9344. Thus, the application of Sections 38 and 40 appears moot and academic as far as his case is concerned.
Note: “Without jurisdiction” means that the court acted with absolute lack of authority. There is “excess of jurisdiction” when the court transcends its power or acts without any statutory authority. “Grave abuse of discretion” implies such capricious and whimsical exercise of judgment as to be equivalent to lack or excess of jurisdiction. In other words, power is exercised in an arbitrary or despotic manner by reason of passion, prejudice, or personal hostility, and such exercise is so patent or so gross as to amount to an evasion of a positive duty or to a virtual refusal either to perform the duty enjoined or to act at all in contemplation of law.