MANILA, Philippines - House Justice Committee Senior Vice-Chairman Rudy Fariñas believes the Sandiganbayan's approval of the plea bargain deal of former military comptroller Major General Carlos Garcia may have long been a done deal.
On Monday, the anti-graft court ruled to uphold the plea bargain deal with the Office of the Ombudsman, amid still unsettled questions over whether government prosecutors should've entered into such an arrangement with the military official, and why he was let out on bail despite facing plunder charges--a non-bailable offense.
"Looking at this resolution, it looks like this was a done deal a long time ago. They had granted bail. Looking at the records as early as May 2010 the deeds of conveyance had been made, na yung properties of Garcia na stolen or illegally acquired e ilipat niya sa gobyerno. Even all the bank accounts have been transferred in a series of transactions made by several banks. It appears here na December 16 nung naarraign si Carlos Garcia so tapos na."
Speaking on ANC's "The Rundown," Fariñas said the timing of the anti-graft court's approval, which comes just days after the resignation of Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez on April 29, is highly suspect.
He notes the Sandiganbayan would've been hard put to approve the deal had a new Ombudsman been appointed last year.
"Kung nagresign na siya nung inimpeach namin siya March 23 giving time for a new Ombudsman to be appointed, if a new Ombudsman would've filed a manifestation withdrawing the plea bargain deal, mahihirapan ang Sandiganbayan to approve this... How can we not be suspicious?"
"Na-facilitate yata yung issuance ng resolution by the resignation of the Ombudsman," Fariñas adds.
Atty. Theodore Te of the U.P. College of Law agrees.
"There's something very strange going on here. The court could've acted earlier, they could've stopped the investigation by saying the plea bargain agreement has been approved but they proceeded with hearing the testimony of the Solicitor General. They never insinuated to the effect that the plea bargain had been approved so everyone was preceding on the premise that the plea bargain agreement had not been approved. No one could explain why Garcia was out on bail on a non-bailable charge of plunder. The money had been returned when the plea bargain agreement had not been approved," Te said in the same interview.
Appeal Sandiganbayan ruling
Fariñas believes there is strong basis to appeal the Sandiganbayan ruling before the Supreme Court (SC).
"Pwede iapela sa SC, may jurisprudence ang SC. Nung December 19 rearraignment, conditional yun, di pa inaaprove ang plea bargain agreement. Maraming naviolate dyan. Dapat may consent ang prosecution at state, e dito, wala," he says.
"I think the resolution should be challenged...If there was no approved plea bargain agreement, how could he have been granted bail in a plunder case even if under the resolution he had already entered a plea of guilt to two lower offenses (of indirect bribery and facilitation of money laundering) in December," Te adds.
"Mukhang nahuli. It would've proceeded logically into the approval but when public attention turned to the plea bargain agreement, they had to stop everything. There was a gag order from the Sandiganbayan which was very rare in a case like this where everyone was asking what was going on, and where transparency was paramount.
"The questions, the lack of courtesy given to the Office of the Ombudsman with the Sandiganbayan's decision, in light of a vacancy in the Office of the Ombudsman and the Deputy Ombudsman for Luzon."
Te also cites the 2008 Daan case which invoked an earlier ruling on the Joseph Estrada case, particularly the plea bargain deal entered into by businessman Charlie `Atong' Ang, Estrada's co-accused in his plunder case in 2007.
Ang was allowed to enter into a plea bargain deal for the lesser offense of corruption of public officials if he helped government prosecute the case.
Ang's testimony was needed to convict Estrada for plunder, but Te and Fariñas note there is no such commitment in the case of Garcia.
Fariñas adds, while the entire amount was restituted by the accused in the Daan case, in the Garcia case. only P135 million of the P300 million worth of alleged ill-gotten wealth was forfeited in favor of government.
"And aregluhan dito was to exculpate the accused and include his co-accused who never appeared in court. The court has not even acquired jurisdiction over the co-accused," Fariñas says.
Solicitor General plans to file appeal
The Solicitor General plans to file a motion for reconsideration.
Te, however, says there is urgency in appealing the case before the Supreme Court.
"There's some urgency here and maybe the Solicitor General would consider not filing a Motion for Reconsideration, and going straight up to the SC and even filing a Temporary Restraining Order."
Sol Gen's prayer
Speaking on ANC's "Headstart" on Tuesday, Solicitor General Joel Cadiz, however, expressed his apprehension over going directly to the high court."
"We can't. Baka sabihin you did not exhaust all remedies.
"Our prayer is to void everything. It's a long shot but that's our prayer. If denied, we will go to SC under Rule 65 for grave abuse of discretion committed by Sandiganbayan."