SC stops Garcia plea bargain deal

High court also blocks approval of bail petition

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Former military comptroller Carlos Garcia. FILE PHOTO

The Supreme Court on Wednesday stopped the proceedings in the Sandiganbayan against retired Maj. Gen. Carlos Garcia that resulted from a plea bargain hammered out in February 2010 with then Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez downgrading plunder charges to lesser offenses.

The former comptroller of the Armed Forces of the Philippines is being tried for direct bribery and facilitating money laundering after the government dropped the P303-million plunder charges that carry a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.

Supreme Court spokesman Theodore Te said the tribunal’s Third Division, in issuing a temporary restraining order (TRO), acted on the certiorari petition filed by the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) against the Sandiganbayan Special Second Division as well as the Office of the Ombudsman, the Office of the Special Prosecutor and Garcia.

The Sandiganbayan division has not set a date yet for Garcia’s sentencing on the lesser charges under the deal that allowed Garcia, his wife, Clarita, and sons Ian Carl, Juan Paulo and Timothy Mark to walk away from the plunder charges.

Direct bribery is punishable by six to 10 years in jail, money laundering from seven to 14 years’ imprisonment.

“Without giving due course to the petition, the court required the respondents to comment on the petition within 10 days from notice and in order not to render the instant petition moot and academic, issued a TRO effective immediately enjoining the respondent Sandiganbayan from continuing with the proceedings … and promulgating judgment based on the assailed plea bargaining agreement,” Te told a news briefing.

He also said the court also stopped the Sandiganbayan from implementing the Dec. 16, 2010, resolution approving Garcia’s request for bail.

The OSG, on orders of President Aquino, went to the Supreme Court after the Sandiganbayan denied the government lawyers’ bid to intervene in the proceedings and turned down their subsequent motion for reconsideration.

The plea bargain forced Gutierrez to resign in May 2011 before the Senate could start her impeachment trial for betrayal of public trust.

Gutierrez, who was appointed by former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, was impeached by the House of Representatives for approving the Garcia plea bargain.

Justice Secretary Leila de Lima welcomed the high court’s action. “That’s a very good sign the Supreme Court would be able to take a really hard look at the issues and study the very significant issues raised in the petition of the OSG,” she said.

In April, Malacañang announced that it was determined to fight a Sandiganbayan ruling that affirmed the plea bargain between Ombudsman Gutierrez and Garcia.

Under the agreement, Garcia pleaded guilty in 2010 to the lesser crimes of indirect bribery and money laundering in lieu of plunder, which carries a penalty of life imprisonment. He was allowed to post bail. His family was cleared of involvement in the cases.

Garcia also agreed to transfer to the government assets worth P135 million. In December 2010, he was released after posting P60,000 bail.

Following the deal, Garcia, who was arrested in June 2005 after plunder charges were filed against him in the Sandiganbayan, was released.

In September 2011, on President Aquino’s order, Garcia was arrested and sent to the New Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa City to serve two years in prison. Six weeks later, he became a lay minister of the Roman Catholic Church.

In 2005, a military court found Garcia guilty of violations of Articles of War 96 and 97 (conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman, and conduct prejudicial to good order and military discipline). He was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment at hard labor and dismissed dishonorably from the service, thus forfeiting his retirement benefits.

In April 2005, the Ombudsman charged Garcia, his wife and three children in connection with a P303-million plunder case for illegal accumulation of wealth. The case stemmed from an investigation by the AFP and the Ombudsman following the December 2003 detention of Garcia’s three sons at San Francisco International Airport, for not declaring they were carrying $100,000 in cash.

Investigation showed that Garcia, whose monthly income was P36,015, had not declared P143 million worth of assets in his statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN) for a number of years. The Ombudsman suspended him for six months, and petitioned the antigraft court for the forfeiture of his assets. Garcia was confined to quarters and ordered to be tried by court-martial.

40 bank accounts

The Court of Appeals later froze 40 bank accounts belonging to Garcia and his family. The US government also froze Garcia’s real estate holdings in New York and Ohio.

In November 2004, the Ombudsman filed four counts of perjury against him in connection with the SALN he filed from 1997 to 2000.—With reports from Inquirer Research and Tetch Torres-Tupas, INQUIRER.net

Originally posted at 2:11 p.m. | July 3, 2013

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