Merci casts shadow over plea deal outcome

By RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 09 2011 04:22 PM | Updated as of May 10 2011 12:22 AM

MANILA, Philippines - Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrrez may no longer be in office, but she casts a long shadow on the institution she left behind.

This was proven on the very first working day since she left office, when the Sandiganbayan approved her controversial plea bargain agreement with former military comptroller Carlos Garcia.

One of the would-be prosecutors in her aborted Senate impeachment trial, Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares said: “Wala na si Omdsman Merceditas Gutierrez, pero ang kamandag ng kanyang ginawa ay ramdam na ramdam pa rin."

Colmenares, however, already saw this coming. "Una, may bail na si Gen. Garcia. Kung hindi pa approved, bakit siya pinayagang umalis na ng kulungan? Pangalawa pinasoli na yung [P135 million].”

Under the agreement, Garcia – who faces plunder charges – will return P135 million to the government and enter a guilty plea to the lesser offense of direct bribery.

Colmenares feels the former Ombudsman wasn't sincere when she assured critics that she would work to review the plea bargain. Colmenares hopes colleagues in the Senate will still censure Gutierrez. "I doubt if she ever lifted a finger to have it reviewed."

Colmenares however warned of the grave implications of the approval of the agreement. “Any public official can now steal hundreds of millions at isoli ang kalahati kumita ka pa.”

Paranaque Rep. Roilo Golez, who chaired the House Defense committee which first probed the Garcia case years ago, bewailed the development.

"Poor [Armed Forces of the Philippines]. Poor Republic of the Philippines. The Sandiganbayan may have just instituted a net profit system for graft and corruption. Rake in a lot, surrender a little, charge some incidental expenses, take the net profit, declare profit sharing, and live happily ever after,” he said.

House Justice Committee Chair Niel Tupas Jr, for his part, said: "It is clear that based on the hearings of the Committee on Justice, the Garcia plea bargaining agreement is highly irregular. For the Sandiganbayan to approve the Garcia deal is a questionable action."

Justice Committee senior vice chair Rodolfo Fariñas joined Colmenares in saying that there may still be hope for the critics of the plea bargain agreement.

Fariñas said, "That decision, however, may be appealed by the State all the way to the SC.

He stressed Congress does not have power over lower courts, but the SC does. He warned, however, that SC justices are impeachable officers.

“We will have to wait for the final SC disposition of the matter,” he said.