MANILA, Philippines - The Office of the Solicitor General may have no choice but to elevate to the Supreme Court the plea bargaining agreement between former military comptroller Maj. Gen. Carlos Garcia and government prosecutors if the SolGen wants to question the deal, a former justice of the Sandiganbayan anti-graft court said Monday.
Ex-Sandiganbayan justice Manuel Pamaran upheld the legality of the the plea bargaining deal allowing Garcia to return P135 million of an estimated P300 million he allegedly stole from the Armed Forces while he was comptroller.
"No doubt that plea bargain is valid. When the case is before the trial court, which is Sandiganbayan, that is under the direction and control of the prosecution. In this case, the prosecution is the Ombudsman. No one can interfere...That is expressly provided by the rule," he told ANC's "Headstart."
He added: "If anybody does not agree with the proceedings in the Sandiganbayan, they have no right to interfere there but rather they should go to the higher court and question the proceeding there."
Pamaran said it is the role of the Office of the Special Prosecutor to assess its evidence from time to time and see if it is enough to get a conviction. He said the decision to enter a plea bargain is mutually agreed upon by the Office of the Special Prosecutor, which is under the Ombudsman, and Garcia's camp.
He said one problem with the Garcia case is because the Ombudsman trying the case is not the same one who prepared the information against the military comptroller accusing him of stealing P300 million from military coffers.
"The Ombudsman (Simeon Marcelo) just gathered evidence without verifying and maybe relying on the Customs letters of Clarita (Garcia) and the children of their money being brought. But during this time now of the resent Ombudsman, they have to validate if the claim was true and found that it cannot be proven in court because some of that money allegedly were given [to Garcia] before he became a general. If I were the Ombudsman, I have no alternative because they cannot prove it in court," he said
He also noted that the anti-graft court's earlier decision to deny bail for Garcia because of the evidence does not mean that the case would result in a conviction.
"Even though you say that bail for Garcia was denied because the evidence was strong, it does not mean that it will be strong forever. It might be also from time to time be assessed especially when the evidence is presented in court," he said.
No basis for SolGen motion
Pamaran said there is no basis for the Solicitor General's motion to intervene in the Garcia case. He said that if the Solicitor General believes he must intervene, "they must go to the higher court and question the proceeding in the Sandiganbayan but they have no right to intervene here unless the Ombudsman will tolerate their participation."
"If somebody believes that that is wrong or grossly irregular, what you can do is go to the higher court and ask for the setting aside of the decision because it is contrary to law and the evidence," he said.
Garcia is accused of amassing over P300 million pesos in ill-gotten wealth while he was Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) comptroller.
Under the plea bargain deal forged by the Office of the Special Prosecutor, Garcia – who faces plunder charges – will return P135 million to the government and enter a guilty plea to the lesser offense of bribery.
He was released last December after posting P60,000 peso bail.
AFP not the complainant
In the interview, Pamaran denied that the plea bargain is illegal because the offended party, in this case the Armed Forces, was not consulted. He noted that the military is not the complainant in the case because it was then Ombudsman Simeon Marcelo who officially started the inquiry on Garcia.
"The AFP is not the complainant in the case, This case was initiated by the Ombudsman itself. The Ombudsman learned from US customs that several relatives of General Garcia are, shall we say, bringing money to the US. From that, the Ombudsman started its own inquiry and not the AFP," he said.
He also denied that the admission of Garcia’s wife that her husband received millions in commissions as Armed Forces comptroller is enough to secure a conviction.
"We cannot say because that will still need to undergo the judicial process. You know your evidence in hand might be good but you do not know when you present it in court the other party might raise some objection. You might not know the ground for objection," he said.
No midnight deal
The ex-Sandiganbayan justice also denied that the anti-graft court resolution accepting the plea bargaining agreement was a midnight deal.
Court documents provided to ABS-CBN by the Office of the Solicitor General earlier showed that the court promulgated a resolution approving the deal as early as May 4, 2010.
"Whatever it is, it is not yet part of the trial under the supervision and control of the Ombudsman. The Ombudsman has the sole responsibility to present evidence see to it that proper justice is done and see to it that there is a conviction," he said.
Asked if the plea bargain deal could be considered an impeachable offense for the Ombudsman, he said: "An impeachable offense is anything contrary to law but this is not contrary to law."