MANILA, Philippines (1st UPDATE) - The Senate Blue Ribbon Committee on Thursday recommended the impeachment and resignation of Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez as well as the firing of members of the Office of the Special Prosecutor for "neglecting, weakening and complicating" the plunder case against former military comptroller Maj. Gen. Carlos Garcia and his family.
In a press briefing on the committee findings, Blue Ribbon committee chairman Sen. Teofisto "TG" Guingona III said the panel also recommends the nullification of the plea bargaining agreement that allowed Garcia to plead guilty to lesser offenses in exchange for the return of P135 million in assets.
Guingona said Gutierrez should be impeached for approving a deal with Garcia, who is accused of stealing P303 million from the military's coffers.
"She has betrayed the public trust. There is also another alternative that is open to Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez and that alternative is resignation. Nakikiusap po kami kay Madam Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez: please spare the country this conflict," he told reporters.
The senator said the committee also recommends the removal of Special Prosecutor Wendell Sulit and her subordinates, deputy special prosecutors Roberto Kallos and Jesus Micael, and assistant special prosecutors Jose Balmeo Jr. and Joseph Capistrano for failing to strengthen the Garcia case after 5 years.
He noted that government lawyers assigned to the case did not coordinate with the military or even ask for a list of military contractors that allegedly gave kickbacks to Garcia.
"They could have strengthened the evidence. They could have strengthened the case but what did they do? Nothing," he said.
He asked the Office of the President, who has jurisdiction over special prosecutors, to file the necessary administrative and criminal cases against the special prosecutors.
Guingona also gave several recommendations in aid of legislation that came out as a result of the Senate Blue Ribbon committee hearings on the plea bargain case.
1. Passage of the Freedom of Information Act to allow for greater transparency in plunder cases
2. Disallow plea bargaining agreements in plunder cases
3. Amend the Anti-Money Laundering Law so that account holders with suspicious bank deposits need not be informed that their accounts are being investigated
4. Allow Department of Justice to prosecute employees of the Office of the Special Prosecutor
5. Separate the Office of the Ombudsman with the Office of the Special Prosecutor
Guingona said the plea bargaining agreement was done to obviously favor Garcia to the disadvantage of the interests of the Filipino people. He said the plea bargain was done in "extreme secrecy" and without the consent of the offended parties, which are the military and the public.
"Madam Merceditas Gutierrez, after reviewing the hearing and undergoing the hearing and listening to your reasons, maliwanag po ang plea bargaining agreement ay hindi kasunduan kundi ayusan," the senator said.
He added that if Gutierrez is impeached or resigns from office, he said the new Ombudsman should pursue the Garcia plunder case.