Gov’t may have to return P135M to revive Garcia’s plunder case
The assets worth P135 million that retired Maj. Gen. Carlos Garcia has turned over to the government may have to be returned if Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales’ petition to nullify the plea bargain that allowed his earlier release is granted.
This, according to Sandiganbayan spokesperson Renato Bocar, is one of two possible scenarios arising from Morales’ move to revive the P303-million plunder case against the former military comptroller, which was extinguished by the controversial agreement between him and state prosecutors.
Bocar said the money and properties amounting to P135 million would have to revert back to Garcia and his family “because the government would no longer have a right to them.”
But the other possible scenario is for the prosecutors to petition the antigraft court to take custody of the assets while the plunder case is pending, Bocar said. He said this could be done so that the assets would not be dissipated.
Former Special Prosecutor Dennis Villaignacio also said he believed that the assets did not have to be returned to Garcia should the plea bargain be revoked. He said the assets could be put in the court’s custody as evidence in the plunder case.
“That’s the fruit of the crime,” Villaignacio said.
Under the plea bargain, Garcia pleaded guilty to the lesser offenses of direct bribery and facilitating money laundering and was released on bail of P60,000. In return, he turned over P135 million in family assets.
Villaignacio, a vocal critic of the plea bargain that was forged during the term of Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez, agreed with Morales’ position that the plea bargain should be nullified and that it was too early to say that the plunder case against Garcia was weak.
He pointed out that the presentation of evidence in the case had not been concluded, and that Garcia’s camp had not filed a demurrer saying the evidence was insufficient.
He said he was confident that if the plunder trial would resume, it would be handled well in the hands of the new Ombudsman.
Concern about prosecution
But Villaignacio raised concern about the prosecution of the plunder case. He noted that Special Prosecutor Wendell Sulit was one of the signatories to the plea bargain and had strongly backed it.
It was the Office of the Special Prosecutor that handled Garcia’s trial for plunder at the Sandiganbayan.
Sulit also has an administrative case in Malacañang stemming from the plea bargain. She was put on a 90-day preventive suspension in June because of it.
On Friday, Garcia was arrested and taken to the national penitentiary to serve a two-year sentence for violating Articles of War 96 and 97. The conviction—for misdeclaring his assets and for holding permanent-residency status in the United States—was handed down by a military court in December 2005.
On the same day, Morales sought to revive Garcia’s plunder case.
She said the Office of the Solicitor General, which had opposed the plea bargain, should be allowed to intervene in the case because it could represent the government in any proceeding, especially in matters affecting public welfare.
The Ombudsman also said it was too early to pronounce the plunder case weak, and wondered if the prosecutors had pursued the extradition of Garcia’s wife and three sons, his coaccused.
She added that Garcia had admitted to amassing ill-gotten wealth in the plea bargain, and asked if he would have turned over the P135 million in assets to the government if these were not ill-gotten.
Speaking on Saturday on state radio, President Aquino’s deputy spokesperson said Malacañang received the court martial papers on Garcia even before Mr. Aquino took over but that it was only recently that these were brought to his attention for confirmation.
Abigail Valte said the papers were reviewed by the defense and justice departments as well as by the Judge Advocate General’s Office.
“You can rest assured that it didn’t take two weeks for the President to make the decision for his actual signing or his confirmation,” Valte said.
She said Malacañang was certain that the President’s confirmation of the court martial decision and Garcia’s incarceration at the New Bilibid Prison would withstand legal questions that the latter was expected to submit to the courts.
“Were confident in that regard. The court martial decision was idle for a long time and the President merely affirmed it. We’re confident that it will stand scrutiny,” she said.
Garcia’s conviction was not confirmed by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo during her term. With a report from Norman Bordadora
First posted 2:20 am | Sunday, September 18th, 2011
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.