'A disappointing development,' says de Lima
MANILA, Philippines (2nd UPDATE) - The Sandiganbayan has approved the plea bargain deal that the Office of the Ombudsman entered into with former military comptroller Carlos Garcia.
In a 22-page resolution penned by Associate Justice Teresita V. Diaz-Baldos, the 2nd Division of the anti-graft court said Garcia complied with all the conditions required in the plea bargain arrangement.
Under the agreement, Garcia – who faces plunder charges – will return P135 million to the government and enter a guilty plea to the lesser offense of direct bribery.
"Inasmuch as the provisions of the Plea Bargaining Agreement and the concerns of this Court about the protection of the Government has been already fully addressed, there is no reason why this Court should withhold approval of the Plea Bargaining Agreement in these cases," the Sandiganbayan said.
It noted the prosecution presented “deficient evidence,” which would make his conviction “questionable and shaky.”
"After assessing the totality of the testimonial and documentary evidence presented by the prosecution, the Court has found the same to be weak in order to support the allegations contained in the equally weak Information for plunder. Suffice it to say that the evidence presented by the prosecution is not enough to convict accused General Garcia of plunder," the court stressed.
The Sandiganbayan also denied the motion for intervention filed by the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG).
Sandiganbayan Presiding Justice Edilberto Sandoval, who is also chairman of the 2nd Division, did not entertain motions for his inhibition because of lack of merit.
The controversy over the plea deal spawned a full-blown investigation in Congress, which pushed the Office of the Ombudsman back into the limelight.
Former Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez was eventually impeached by the House of Representatives. She resigned last Friday (May 6) even before the Senate trial could start today.
'All is not lost'
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said "all is not lost" following the Sandiganbayan's approval of the Ombudsman's plea bargain, which she described as a "disappointing development."
De Lima said the Palace will be exploring other legal remedies, such as filing a motion for reconsideration with the Sandiganbayan or elevating the case to a higher court on appeal.
"All is not lost because there are remedies under the law. The office of the Solicitor General can always elevate the matter either sa Court of Appeals or the Supreme Court. Pero kailangan siguro mag-file na muna ng motion for reconsideration although we will discuss that with the Solicitor General kung ano ang next move," De Lima told reporters on the sidelines of the arrival of President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III from Indonesia. – with reports from Willard Cheng, ABS-CBN News