Solicitor General wants Garcia back in jail

12/22/2010 - THE Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) on Tuesday said it will file a motion to intervene before the Sandiganbayan in a bid to return former AFP comptroller, Major General Carlos Garcia, back in jail to face trial for plunder for illegally amassing P303 million while in service.

Garcia, who was in detention since 2005, was able to elude a possible life imprisonment after pleading guilty to lesser offenses of indirect bribery and money laundering lodged before the Sandiganbayan’s Second Division and posting a bail of P60,000.

Solicitor General Jose Anselmo Cadiz said the OSG will question the validity and legality of the plea bargain agreement entered by the Office of the Special Prosecutor, the prosecutorial arm of the Office of the Ombudsman, with Garcia.

“The instructions of the President are clear; we will try to stop that deal, we will try to undo it. The deal is illegal because there is strong evidence against Gen. Garcia. The deal was made at a time when the case was deep into the trial already,” he said.

Cadiz said that although Garcia is already out on bail, the Sandiganbayan may still issue an order nullifying the plea bargain agreement. Cadiz added the government initially thought of going directly to the Supreme Court to nullify the bail granted by the anti-graft court, but he decided against it and would only take that option as a final resort.

Should the Sandiganbayan approve the deal, Cadiz said they will file a petition for review before the SC.

“It depends on what the Sandiganbayan will say. Let us see if this thing works because there is no official decision yet. The proper venue is still the Sandiganbayan,” he said.

Earlier, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima offered the services of a team of prosecutors from the Department of Justice to help investigate Special Prosecutor Wendell Barreras-Sulit who agreed to the plea bargain. She said that while Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez may only be disciplined by Congress, her deputies are still covered by the executive.

De Lima also claimed that Gutierrez, in giving imprimatur to the compromise deal, may be held liable for betrayal of public trust, an impeachable offense.

Wait for court decision

In a related note, Senator Gregorio Honasan II on Tuesday asked the public to be calm on the plea bargain between prosecutors and Garcia. Honasan told Sun.Star that the case against Garcia is still with the courts and plea bargains are part of legal proceedings. The deal allowed Garcia to plead guilty to direct bribery and money laundering instead of being tried for plunder.

The Sandiganbayan released Garcia Friday, but the plea bargain has come under heavy fire from Justice Secretary Leila De Lima, former Ombudsman Simeon Marcelo, and civil society groups.

President Benigno Aquino III has also expressed disappointment over the deal and has ordered a review. But Honasan said that aside from lawyers involved with the case, everyone else should wait for the court to decide on Garcia's guilt and on the irregularity of the plea bargain.

He added speculation that it is premature to say the plea bargain would demoralize the Armed Forces of the Philippines. He said what would lower the morale of soldiers is if corrupt officials in the military are allowed to get away with their crimes scot-free.

The senator further explained that Garcia is being tried publicly by “personalities shooting their mouths off”.

“Nananaig nanaman ang galit,” Honasan, who was Garcia's classmate at the Philippine Military Academy, observed. For Senate President Enrile, however, the President is free to criticize the plea bargain as long as the charges still stand.

“Yung si General Garcia, he was already arraigned. Idinismiss ng prosecutor 'yong kaso n'ya because of the plea bargain. Eh, tapos na. The President cannot reverse it because you are already dealing with the Bill of Rights. No person shall be put twice in jeopardy for the same offense,” said Enrile.

Plea encourages new offense
Retired Archbishop Oscar Cruz on Tuesday meantime added his voice in assailing the decision of the Office of the Ombudsman to enter into a bargaining agreement with Garcia leading to his temporary release.

The former president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) said the decision to reach a compromise with a convicted plunderer will only encourage a repeat of the incident.

“It, in fact, encourages such behavior, namely bribery and plunder, because you can get away with it with plea bargain,” said Cruz.

“I wouldn’t want to predict (its consequences). I’m just saying that the precedent set by this ruling is devastating,” he added.

President Aquino already directed his legal team to determine if there are ways to stop the deal since his government’s anti-corruption campaign would be weakened if the deal pushes through.

On Monday, Department of Justice Secretary Leila de Lima described that the deal as being “tainted with illegality” and should, therefore, be nullified.

Cruz then appealed to AFP officials who are mulling the idea of doing another “Garcia” to re-think their plans.

“I’m not asking for heaven for the action and conduct of the AFP… What I’m saying is let us be less dishonest. I’m not even saying let us be honest. Let us be more for public service,” said Cruz
(Sun Star)

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