Lawmaker wants prosecutors in Garcia case replaced

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jan 27 2011 06:48 PM | Updated as of Jan 28 2011 03:27 PM

MANILA, Philippines - A party-list lawmaker on Thursday urged the Office of the Solicitor General to push for the replacement of government prosecutors handling the P303 million plunder case against retired military comptroller Major Gen. Carlos F. Garcia and his family.

Citizens’ Battle Against Corruption (CIBAC) party-list Rep. Sherwin Tugna said the statements of Ombudsman prosecutors led by Special Prosecutor Wendel Barreras-Sulit that government evidence is insufficient to convict the Garcias have eroded their credibility to continue representing the State in the case.
 
“It would be better if we have the panel of prosecutors changed considering that as early as this stage, their predisposition about the case has been very obvious,” the lawmaker said.
 
Tugna said the Office of the Solicitor General can file a motion for substitution of counsel before the Sandiganbayan Second Division in the event that the graft court junks the plea bargaining agreement forged between Garcia and the Ombudsman.
 
The plea bargaining agreement allowed Garcia, his wife and children to walk on a plunder charge by pleading guilty to lesser offenses of direct bribery and facilitating money laundering and offering to return P135.4 million out of the P303 million unexplained wealth he was accused of amassing while in active military service.
 
At the same time, Tugna said Ombudsman prosecutors may face criminal indictments under the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act in attempting to suppress evidence relative to the testimony of former COA auditor Heidi Mendoza.
 
Mendoza was the head of the special team of government auditors that reviewed financial transactions conducted by the Armed Forces during Garcia’s time as military comptroller.
 
She said a prosecutor called her and tried to talk her into telling the media that prosecution evidence was insufficient to support allegations against the Garcias in the plunder information.
 
Meanwhile, former Special Prosecutor Dennis Villa-Ignacio suggested that Ombudsman prosecutors should just voluntarily inhibit from the Garcia plunder case after their admission before the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee that they no longer made any effort to build up the case by looking for additional evidence.
 
“At this point, that is the only real option left for them. After they have repeatedly declared that government evidence is weak, how can the public still expect them to do an honest-to-goodness job in prosecuting Gen. Garcia?” Villa-Ignacio pointed out.
 
He said in the event that the Sandiganbayan disapproves the plea bargain deal, the case will go back to trial and the defense could even use the statements of Sulit and assistant special prosecutors Jose Balmeo and Joseph Capistrano to move for dismissal of the government case through a demurrer to evidence.
 
“That would be embarrassing, to say the least. The prosecutors will be confronted with their pronouncements on national television that there was not enough evidence to convict Gen. Garcia,” he added.