Garcia plea bargain deal: Institutional corruption

By Caroline J. Howard, ABS-CBN News Channel

Posted at Feb 02 2011 02:51 PM | Updated as of Feb 15 2011 10:20 PM

MANILA, Philippines - The House Justice Committee is studying the possibility of recommending sanctions against special prosecutors who struck a plea bargain agreement with former Armed Forces comptroller Carlos Garcia. This following the explosive testimony of Commission on Audit auditor Heidi Mendoza.

Speaking on ANC's "The Rundown," House Justice Committee Chairman Niel Tupas said they are mulling filing charges against state prosecutors before the Office of the President.

"There might be a possibility that a Committee on Justice will file cases before the Office of the President. It might be possible because of the gravity, and we saw institutional corruption," he said.

Citing the evidence and Mendoza's statement, Tupas said prosecutors should have had a strong case against Garcia and the Sandiganbayan, enough basis to junk the deal.

"We don't agree with the Ombudsman that the case is weak, or that there's no evidence," Tupas said.  "Heidi Mendoza is a very, very credible witness. It's clear based on the testimony and circumstances surrounding the plea bargain deal it should be nullified."

Tupas admitted he was surprised that Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez didn't think there was any allegation of money sourced from government coffers during the committee hearing on Tuesday, even as the information in the complaints expressly stated it was in relation to government projects and contracts.

He said he was also bothered by the prosecution's decision to dismiss certain evidence or use some statements Mendoza made before the committee.

"Heidi Mendoza got all the support when Simeon Marcelo was the Ombudsman, but with the change of leadership, not only was she not given support, she was ousted from her office."

Amend Ombudsman Act, Plunder Law

Amid what he called the "shocking" revelation of offenses and "institutional corruption" Tupas believes it may be time to amend the Ombudsman Act and the Plunder Law.

"We have to amend the Ombudsman Act. It's not working. The prosecutors and the Ombudsman should be two independent and distinct bodies under the Constitution."

"We should prohibit plea bargaining agreements in cases of plunder. It's not in the law now, that's why they entered into it. We should amend the plunder law. If it's a one time, big-time transaction of P100 million, it's not considered plunder under the law. It should be a series or culmination of acts. It doesn't make sense."

Citing the rules on evidence, Tupas said there is a certain presumption of ill-gotten wealth under the plunder law, pertaining to one's salary and the capacity to acquire a certain amount.

He added that a pattern can be established, but it is not necessary to prove each and every charge.

The House Justice Committee has invited former Commission on Audit (COA) Commissioner Emmanuel Dalman to attend the proceeding to verify Mendoza's testimony that a Palace official told the COA office to go slow on Garcia's case.

"The testimony of Heidi Mendoza trying to stop her from doing her job is punishable under the law," Tupas said.

Remedial measures

Tupas said they will also look into slapping possible remedial measures against those involved.

The House Justice Committee will resume its hearing into Garcia's plea bargain deal next Tuesday.

The committee has until the middle of March to complete its probe into the plea bargain deal before referring the committee report to the plenary.

"We assure the public that some legislation will come out from this or filing of cases will happen," Tupas said. 
Pursuing impeachment

Meantime, Tupas said  they are also bent on pursuing the impeachment case against Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez. Two complaints are pending before the House Committee on Justice.

Tupas called on the Supreme Court to decide on its ante-order on their impeachment hearings by February 15 so they can act on the impeachment complaints.