Gutierrez: No monkey business in plea bargain deal

By Ira Pedrasa, abs-cbnNEWS.com

Posted at Feb 01 2011 02:01 PM | Updated as of Feb 02 2011 05:09 AM

MANILA, Philippines - Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez stands by her prosecutor’s findings on the need to enter into a plea deal with former military comptroller Carlos Garcia, insisting that there was not enough evidence to pin him down for charges of plunder.

Speaking for the first time in public over the controversial plea bargaining agreement, Gutierrez was adamant that the plea bargain signed on February 25, 2010 was warranted for the sake of the interest of the nation.

She insisted that there was no monkey business involved, even saying at some point that “we can tell you and even swear to God na kapag may kumita, tamaan na sana ng kidlat at mamatay.”

She said this is to stress to the public that her office is just doing its job. She said that they have been tried before the public “because of false accusations” by former Ombudsman Simeon Marcelo and former Special Prosecutor Dennis Villa-Ignacio.

She said the issue got out of hand when both wrote a letter to President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III calling to his attention the supposed illegal plea deal.

The letter, Gutierrez said, was full of “misconceptions.”

Evidence not enough

“The main evidence is the letter of Clarita Garcia…which was not enough…That is why we bargained and we decided to get all the properties we could get. We believe that there was no evidence to convict him,” she said.

Clarita, in a testimony, said that her husband Carlos routinely took “gratitude money” for approving contracts for the military. Having joined Garcia’s many trips abroad, she and her sons accepted up to $20,000 “shopping money” from suppliers.

This was admitted before a US official after her sons Ian Carl and Juan Paolo were detained for smuggling $100,000 cash at the San Francisco international airport. Clarita was supposedly aiming to retrieve the cash that was seized.

“We always go by evidence…It’s now up to the Sandiganbayan to rule whether what we did was right or wrong…The court will be the ultimate ruler,” she stressed.

Witnesses

Amid her explanation, Paranaque Representative Roilo Golez interrupted: “How can we accept what you are saying? This is as if Rabusa or Heidi do not exist…We should redirect the hearing…so that Rabusa’s and Heidi’s statements will become germane [to the investigation].”

Golez was referring to Heidi Mendoza, a former employee of the Commission on Audit (COA) who was tasked to investigate the paper trail left by Garcia.

However, Gutierrez noted that the findings of Mendoza could not be linked to Garcia.

On the other hand, she also stressed: “Rabusa’s statement is still a statement. As prosecutors, we still need to find the documents based on what he said,” Gutierrez said.

Former military budget officer Lieutenant Colonel George Rabusa suddenly appeared during a Senate hearing on Thursday regarding the plea bargain deal.

He said that former AFP chief Angelo Reyes received P50 million in “pabaon” (send-off money) when he retired in 2002. This revelation opened a can of worms, leading the public to believe that there is truth to accusations regarding military corruption.

Investigating panel

Nonetheless, the Ombudsman said she has already created a panel that will investigate the revelations of Rabusa.

She promised that her office would be unbiased on the matter.

She also said they will be open to reviewing even Garcia’s case if the evidence would be traced to him.

“As of now, walang connection kay Garcia,” she stressed.

“I don’t think that even Marcelo et al had the same evidence then,” she said.