Ombudsman would revisit controversial plea bargain
Newly appointed Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales wants to revisit the controversial plea bargain agreement forged between state prosecutors and former military comptroller Carlos Garcia who had been charged with plunder.
Morales has asked the Sandiganbayan Second Division in a motion to allow her to submit a position paper on the plea deal.
She also asked, in the meantime, that the court hold in abeyance its ruling on a motion to reverse the court’s approval of the deal.
Under the plea bargain, Garcia, who was charged with plundering P303 million, agreed to plead guilty to the lighter charges of direct bribery and facilitating money laundering and to turn over P135.433 million of his and his family’s assets to the state.
Bail of P60,000
Garcia, who is awaiting sentencing, has been released on bail of P60,000 after being detained for six years.
The Sandiganbayan approved the plea bargain in May, provoking intense criticism from administration officials and lawmakers who said the deal would greatly weaken anticorruption efforts.
Morales said that having only recently assumed her post, she was still familiarizing herself with the many cases pending before the Ombudsman.
Morales, a retired Supreme Court justice, has been at the job less than a month.
“One of the challenging issues in the present case which commands my attention is the propriety or legality of the issue of the forging of the plea bargaining agreement between the prosecution and the accused,” she said in the motion.
“The issue is novel and appears to be complex or double-edged that calls for and demands a more thorough and studied approach,” she added.
Morales further said that given the “peculiar circumstances” of the case, she would need 15 days to study the voluminous records to be able to see her way through the complex issues.
She added that she did not file the motion just to unduly delay the proceedings, but to have a chance to submit a position paper.
The plea bargain was struck during the term of Morales’ predecessor Merceditas Gutierrez, who resigned shortly before her impeachment trial was to begin in the Senate in May.
Saying that the deal was wrong, the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) tried to intervene, only to have its plea shot down by the antigraft court. The OSG has since filed a motion for reconsideration and has asked the court to withdraw its approval of the agreement. That motion is pending.
Ombudsman officials and prosecutors had earlier defended the deal, saying that it would conserve the government’s time and resources. They said that the evidence against Garcia was insufficient to pin him for plunder.
In approving the deal, the Sandiganbayan said all of its conditions had been met. It also said that the evidence against Garcia would have led to his acquittal. It also noted that the charge sheet against Garcia was shot with defects.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.