After hearings into Garcia plea bargain deal, what next?

By Caroline J. Howard, ANC

Posted at Feb 10 2011 02:48 AM | Updated as of Feb 12 2011 03:40 AM

After hearings into Garcia plea bargain deal, what next? 1MANILA, Philippines - Lawmakers at the House of Representatives are mulling amendments to the Plunder Law, after ending its investigation into the state prosecutors' plea bargain agreement with former military comptroller Carlos Garcia.

Speaking on ANC's "The Rundown," Ilocos Norte 1st District Rep. Rodolfo Fariñas and Cagayan de Oro 2nd District Representative Rufus Rodriguez said they were considering a review of the Plunder Law and doing away with plea bargaining.

"We're thinking of amending the Plunder Law, perhaps prohibiting plea bargaining or pardons for cases of plunder," said Fariñas, senior vice-chairman of the House Justice Committee.

"We wish to define who is the offended party that has to be notified in case of plea bargaining. It's clear COA [Commission of Audit] has the authority to settle all the accounts of government. The Sandiganbayan should've notified COA on this matter of the plea bargain," he said.

Fariñas said, former COA Chairman Guillermo Carague had sent a 10-man team under control of the Ombudsman to help ferret out reports on the use of funds.

"We should be able to look at the Plunder Law and out rules of procedure. As suggested by some, there should be no plea bargaining because its a very high crime," said Rodriguez, a member of the majority in the House Justice Committee.

No double jeopardy

On Tuesday, the House Committee on Justice passed a resolution urging the Office of the Ombudsman to withdraw the plea bargain deal.

Fariñas said there is no risk of double jeopardy in plunder charges against Garcia, considering the Ombudsman's move to hold the plea bargain deal in abeyance.

"The court is not very clear. They allowed him to plead guilty to a lesser offense (direct bribery) and granted bail based on the plea but the plea agreement has not been approved," he said.

"No double jeopardy yet. It can be done because the prosecution has not rested its case formally or submitted its evidence formally," Fariñas said.

"The Sandiganbayan stated that the proceedings are not yet finished, no final plea bargaining agreement, that's why there are moves to hold it in abeyance or withdraw it," Rodriguez added.

Last week, the Ombudsman submitted a manifestation to hold the decision in abeyance and agreed to review the plea bargain deal.

Last week, the justice committee said it was also considering the possible filing of charges against those behind the plea bargain. But Rodriguez said he wouldn't go to that extent, adding the focus would be to find out if the plea bargain agreement is legal or not.

Rodriguez had filed Resolution 793 to look into the plea bargain agreement and the circumstances surrounding it to find out if there was a violation of rules.

Overstepping legislative boundaries?

Amid criticism hurled at lawmakers for supposedly over-stepping their legislative boundaries in the wake of former Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief Angelo Reyes' suicide, Fariñas admitted some lawmakers may have been unconstitutional in certain respects.

He cited the case when witnesses invoked their right against self- incrimination, and they should've simply respected that right instead of pressing the witness for an answer.

Rodriguez admitted some members got carried away, when they are bound by their mandate to hold investigations only in aid of legislation.

No closed-door hearings

But as the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee resumes hearings into the plea bargain deal next week, Senate Defense Committee Chairman Francis Escudero said he is not in favor of holding closed-door hearings.

This, following Senator Gregorio Honasan's calls on his fellow lawmakers to moderate and temper their proceedings to avoid trial by publicity.

Asked during an interview on ABS-CBN's "Umagang Kay Ganda" if he believed there was trial by publicity at Senate hearings, Escudero said it came with the territory.

He added that unless there is a majority vote for an executive session, hearings should remain open to the public.

"Bahagi iyon ng isang public hearing kung saan kapag may sarili silang paghusga kaugnay sa panukala ni Senador Honasan sa executive hearing nalang lahat, hindi naman yata pwede iyon. Ang tawag diyan ay public hearing pero kung may mga sensitibong bagay, pwedeng executive session ang pagdinig ng Senado upon a vote of a majority of senators."

Speaking over radio dzMM, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile said senators have agreed to temper their line of questioning in the course of investigations.

"Nagkaroon kami ng caucus at napagkasunduan na kailangan mahinahon ang pagtatanong at treatment ng haharap sa amin, kailangan ipa-iral naman ang kapangyarihan mg institution sa interes ng bansa, iyan ang gusto natin at linisin at baguhin ang lipunan at pamahalaan. Kung gusto nating linisin ang lipunan, tamaan na ang tamaan para matapos na itong pangyayaring ito," he said.