RTC Naga judge asks help for PDLs in-patient drug rehab

By Paolo Jamer


Judge Soliman M. Santos Jr. of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 61 in Naga City, in two separate Special Resolutions issued last May 20 and 30 in the cases of two accused Persons Deprived of Liberty (PDLs), has asked certain concerned government agencies and offices for help in dealing with the financial incapacity of sentenced accused under plea bargain Judgments in drug cases, which sometimes include in-patient or residential drug rehabilitation for the convicts who are usually indigents and whose families cannot afford the corresponding fees for that kind of rehab.

Plea bargaining to a lesser offense (usually Section 12 possession of drug paraphernalia) is allowed in drug cases where specified small amounts of shabu or marijuana are involved in the most common drug cases of Section 5 sale and Section 11 possession of dangerous drugs.


The main penalty for Section 12 is at most 4 years imprisonment, therefore qualifying the convict for probation, program for criminal reformation outside jail instead of imprisonment. While the main penalties for Sections 5 and 11 can go as high as life imprisonment (at least 30 years) especially for Section 5, and as low only as reclusion temporal (12 years and 1 day to 20 years) for only Section 11. Temporary releases of PDLs whose probation applications are given due course result in at least considerable jail decongestion, made more imperative by the Covid-19 pandemic situation.


Aside from probation arising from a plea bargain Judgement in drug cases, there is also to be drug rehabilitation in the form recommended by a DOH-accredited physician or facility based on her/his/its diagnosis of the level of drug dependency of the convict probationer. Thus, depending on whether the drug use disorder is mild, moderate or severe, the usual corresponding recommended rehab is community-based, intensive out-patient, and in-patient or residential at a DOH-accredited drug rehab facility.


In Camarines Sur, this is the DOH-Camarines Sur Treatment and Rehabilitation Center (CSTRC) in Pamukid, San Fernando, which charges certain fees and costs for in-patient rehab and presently admits only male confinees (males are the overwhelming majority of documented drug dependents)..


Most PDLs cannot afford the said in-patient rehab fees and costs. In the first place, they are mostly indigents and are thus usually represented by the Public Attorneys Office (PAO). And so, in the cases of the sentenced PDLs Rommel Domingo (detained at the Camarines Sur Provincial Jail and Penal Farm in Tinangis, Pili for a Provincial Prosecution Office case) and Albert Reynancia (detained at the Naga City District Jail in Del Rosario, for a City Prosecution Office case) with their respective plea bargain Judgments before Branch 61, their assigned PAO lawyer Atty. Robinson G. Antonio moved to allow them to undergo intensive out-patient instead of the recommended in-patient rehab for the main reason of their financial incapacity to pay the fees and costs for the latter kind of rehab. While considering this to be understandable, Santos denied those two PAO motions for these reasons, among others:


1. First and most important, given that the overwhelming number of drug case convicts on plea bargaining are indigents as shown by being represented by the Public Attorney’s Office (PAO), it would open the floodgates to an inordinate diversion to Intensive Out-Patient (IOP) drug rehabilitation from the recommended Residential or In-Patient drug rehabilitation that should be factored into any probation program for criminal reformation, even as IOP may not be (still case to case) the appropriate form of drug rehabilitation for diagnosed severe methamphetamine use disorder.


2. Second, if the problem has to do with the financial incapacity of the convicted drug dependent to pay the residential or in-patient drug rehabilitation fees, the solution is not to simply shift the rehabilitation program to IOP, but to deal with the fees or funding problem.


Santos also reasoned that there is a distinction between residential rehabilitation which is in the context of voluntary submission and one which is in the context of a criminal penalty and probation. It is clear that the costs and fees for voluntary submission should be shouldered by the committing family of the drug dependent. In Santos’ view, the costs and fees for residential rehabilitation in the context of a criminal penalty and probation should be shouldered by the State or government since it initiated the criminal action.


And so, aside from denying the two PAO motions, Santos took the opportunity to address certain concerned government agencies and offices regarding the problem of covering the costs and fees of the CSTRC for residential rehabilitation of drug case plea bargain convicts-probationers, not just the herein accused, as follows:


A).For the CSTRC to soonest accept plea bargain convicts-probationers with recommended residential rehabilitation, without prejudice to their cost-sharing if capable and to securing funding to cover costs and fees from DOH, other government and even private sources. The soonest acceptance for residential rehabilitation is intended to avoid undue delays in the disposition of probation applications granted due course, given the ideal of co-related or simultaneous drug rehabilitation in the context of criminal reformation through a probation program (thus, necessitated a degree of cooperation and coordination and communication between the CSTRC and the concerned probation offices).


This is also intended to sooner declog the concerned jails of waiting plea bargain convicts-probationers with recommended residential rehabilitation at and for transfer to the CSTRC.


b) For the Naga City and Camarines Sur provincial governments to soonest undertake proactive budgetary outlays and reactive discretionary fund disbursement to cover costs and fees of the CSTRC for residential rehabilitation of plea bargain convicts-probationers with recommended residential rehabilitation, especially those who are indigent, as most appear to be. The CSTRC would best soonest provide an indicative budget or funding proposal to both the provincial and city governments, including the Nsga City Dangerous Drugs Board (NCDDB).


c) For the Naga City Justice Zone, when ready to resume functioning in the “new normal,” to soonest agenda this matter of needed funds to cover costs and fees of the CSTRC for residential rehabilitation of plea bargain convicts-probationers with recommended residential rehabilitation. For this purpose, the CSTRC should be invited to be a member stakeholder of the Justice Zone.


Both Special Resolutions of Santos in the Domingo and Reynancia cases were copy furnished to Chief Justice Alexander G. Gesmundo, aside from the above-mentioned concerned government agencies and offices.


Both resolutions were also furnished to the Naga City mayor and Camarines Sur governor.


Santos also asked the help of the private and NGO sectors.