Not yet, Gen. Garcia;it isn’t quite a done deal yet

December 25, 2010
Last week, former Armed Forces of the Philippines comptroller Maj. Gen. Carlos Garcia, who was charged with plunder for amassing unexplained wealth of more than P300 million while in office, struck a plea bargaining agreement with government prosecutors. He agreed to return big portion of the money, enabling him to plead guilty for lesser offenses of direct bribery and violation of the anti-money laundering law and get out on P60,000 bail. Had the plunder case, an unbailable offense, been maintained, Garcia would still be languishing in jail and the plunder case of his wife Clarita, and children Ian Carl, Juan Paulo and Timothy Clark, who had all fled to the United States and had become American citizens, would have remained.

The deal triggered a howl of protest from citizens, business groups, the clergy, former soldiers and former prosecutors who clamor for the voiding of the plea bargain deal between the general and the Office of the Sandiganbayan and the Office of the Ombudsman. Protesters charged that the deal would clearly embolden those in government into committing graft and corruption, after all, they could get away with their crimes by following the same route.

Malacanang, clearly surprised by the turn of events, said it would intervene in the second division of the Sandiganbayan case against Gen. Garcia in a last-ditch effort to stop the deal. Solicitor General Joel Cadiz, pointing out that the evidence for plunder case against Garcia was strong, disclosed that President Aquino had instructed the OSG to intervene and stop the deal. He also stressed that the anti-graft court should not approve the deal since the case is deep into trial already. Rule 116, Section 2 of the Rules of Court provides that an accused may only plead to a lesser offense before the start of the trial, said Cadiz, adding that should the Sandiganbayan reject the OSG’s plea for the voiding of the deal, the OSG might elevate the case to the Supreme Court.

Former Ombudsman Simeon Marcelo and former Special Prosecutor Dennis Villa-Ignacio have volunteered to President Aquino to help in the effort to have the plea bargaining deal trashed. In a letter to the President, the two said: “We believe, Your Excellency, that the corrupt and illegal plea bargain with Garcia may still be unwound and nullified. Those responsible should be dutifully prosecuted.” They said the deal “is riddled with fatal flaws” and “is grossly disadvantageous to the government” and was forged “with manifest partiality which would cause undue injury to the government.” Marcelo and Villa-Ignacio also said President Aquino’s consent should have been sought, considering that the AFP is the offended party and he is the commander-in-chief.

Even as former AFP chief of staff, now Congressman Rodolfo Biazon, called for a congressional probe into the plea bargaining agreement, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, a lawyer and constitutionalist, defended the Ombudsman’s agreeing to a plea bargain deal, saying it’s within its powers under the law.

“It’s in the law. What can we do? We copied it from the Americans – the plea bargain, the pre-trial conference. That’s why the system is like this,” Enrile said in Pilipino. But Enrile also said it’s also President Aquino’s right to question the agreement.

“The President is the top soldier of the country, the top executive of the country, the top policeman of the country and he is the top prosecutor of the country. He can say ‘I do not agree with your decision’,” Enrile said. The Senate leader, however, stressed the President cannot reverse any decision by the courts. The President cannot reverse it because he will be dealing with the Bill of Rights,” the Senate president said. “What he was questioning was the action of the prosecutor in agreeing to that plea of a lower offense. He is not criticizing the decision of the court. You can criticize the court for as long as the language is not vulgar or abrasive. It has to be a civil expression of an opinion,” he said.

Regardless of some politicians’ opinions, the President should intervene in this matter. A proper and thorough investigation of the process and the parties involved should be made soon to avoid another miscarriage of justice and the sick consequence of rewarding instead of punishing evil.

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