MANILA, Philippines - Former military comptroller Carlos Garcia finally broke his silence on his controversial plea bargain agreement with the Office of the Ombudsman on his corruption case at the Sandiganbayan.
Garcia told the committee the idea of a plea bargain agreement was first floated to him in 2008 by someone he did not name. At that time, thinking he had a strong defense, he didn’t pursue it.
However, after his children and wife were jailed, and more cases were filed against him in 2009, he re-started the plea bargain agreement negotiations with the Arroyo government.
Garcia said the withdrawal of information against his family was part of the plea bargain agreement in exchange for pleading guilty to direct bribery.
“My wife was detained in Michigan, my son in New York, my 2 other sons in San Francisco. Kinulong po sila. It’s the primoridial reason na pumayag ako…..With advice of lawyer, knowing from the start I have a strong case, malaki pag-asa ko ma-acquit… From the start, alam ko whistleblower ang importante sa plunder cases,” he said.
Garcia said they never questioned the criminal information filed, or the prosecution would have been able to make changes.
“In 2004, nag-start ang kaso. Isa-isa, na-acquit ako. The worst part was mid-2009, 3 additional cases were filed against me. Sabi ko, kelan matatapos ito? Sabi ko....dahil saking pamilya, pipirma ako, kahit ano gusto.”
Garcia also clarified why he is only returning less than half of what he allegedly owes government. Garcia said the allegations against him were “bloated.”
Garcia also questioned Parañaque Rep. Roilo Golez if his committee back then validated the assets allegedly owned by Garcia.
“Honorable Golez, if you could recall, if not [in a hearing] Oct. 18 or 21, 2004 one of the members, Congressman [Vincent] Crisologo asked: did you validate the report of the Americans? Vinalidate ba ninyo? Navalidate ba ninyo ang pinagsasabi na may properties sa US [si Garcia]? That was asked by Cong. Crisologo."
Garcia also indicated that some of the 54 vehicles he allegedly owns are under namesakes.
Marcelo: Garcia case strong
Meanwhile, former Ombudsman Simeon Marcelo maintained before the committee that the Sandiganbayan should not approve the plea bargain agreement as the case against Garcia is strong.
Marcelo, upon questioning, maintained that they showed at the time of the filing of the case that the elements of plunder--the accused is a government official; series of [corrupt] acts; the amount involved is at least P50 million--were present.
“We never entertained the idea of a plea bargain agreement. It's really a tight case. To my mind, the admissions of Clarita Garcia are strong enough to convict. The admissions were, 1 handwritten, 1 typewritten submitted voluntarily to customs office of the US," he said.
Prosecutor told to 'disengage'
Former Special Prosecutor Dennis Villa-Ignacio revealed before the committee that Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez asked him to disengage from the case.
“I was asked by the Ombudsman (Gutierrez) to disengage from the case. The perception was that I was doing very well. If you are perceived to be honest and competent, they’ll take you out of the case," he said.
The “missing” former military comptroller showed up, while Ombudsman Gutierrez and her deputies outrightly snubbed the House Justice Committee’s investigation of the Garcia plea bargain agreement .
Garcia was at the hearing a considerable amount of time before the hearing began at around 10 a.m. In stark contrast, Gutierrez and her deputy and special prosecutors sent in a letter with 3 reasons why she declined particpation.
The reasons are :
- the Garcia case remains pending in the Sandiganbayan’s 2nd Division;
- the Ombudsman is an independent and constitutional office; and,
- the hearing, based on media reports, is not a probe in aid of legislation.
The letter drew the ire of lawmakers who felt Gutierrez was being arrogant, since it is up to lawmakers to determine what is and what is not in aid of legislation.
As a result the, committee unanimously voted to subpoena Gutierrez, Deputy Ombudsman Orlando Casimiro, and Wendell Sulit, Robert Callos, Jesus Michael, Jose Balmeo and Jospeh Capistrano to the next hearing on Tuesday.