Sandiganbayan justices in Garcia plea deal face lawsuit

ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 18 2011 01:12 PM | Updated as of May 18 2011 09:12 PM

MANILA, Philippines - Magistrates of the Sandiganbayan 2nd Division are in hot water for approving a controversial plea bargaining agreement between the Office of the Ombudsman and former military comptroller Maj. Gen. Carlos Garcia, who is facing plunder charges.

Anti-corruption advocates Risa Hontiveros, Leah Navarro and retired Brigadier General Danilo Lim filed Wednesday a joint complaint-affidavit before Justice Secretary Leila De Lima accusing Sandiganbayan justices Edilberto G. Sandoval, Teresita V. Diaz-Baldos and Samuel R. Martires of issuing an unjust order over its decision granting approval on the Garcia plea bargain agreement.

In the complaint, the three justices are accused of "knowingly and willfully" issuing an interlocutory order that violates Article 206 of the Revised Penal Code.

Article 206 states that any judge who shall knowingly render an unjust interlocutory order or decree shall suffer the penalty of arresto mayor in its minimum period and suspension. "But if he shall have acted by reason of inexcusable negligence or ignorance and the interlocutory order or decree be manifestly unjust, the penalty shall be suspension," the article states.

The complainants stressed how the plea bargain deal was “patently irregular" especially since the accused was only made to return P135 million of a reported P303 million in plundered wealth.

They said the plea bargaining agreement failed to secure the consent of the offended party, which is the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

They also noted the "undue haste in the approval of the agreement" as it was approved on the day the resignation of former Ombudsman Merceditas Guttierrez took effect. This prevented Gutierrez's replacement from questioning the deal.

"Irregularity is manifest as the deal was executed way beyond arraignment or even pre-trial as provided in Section 2 Rule 116  of the Rules of Court," the complaint said.

Noted Hontiveros: "You don’t need to be a lawyer to know that a patent transgression was committed by the justices in approving a defective agreement. Binargain ang hustisya. Nilako sa mga corrupt. Talong talo ang mamamayan dito."

Meanwhile, Lim said the justices’ decision invites further discord among the ranks of the military.

“The decision is not courting closure and justice; what it is inviting is resentment that could lead to a dangerous political friction within the military establishment. Instead of healing old wounds, the plea bargain deal is adding salt to injury, more so, creating new and deep political abrasions inside the military,” he said.

For her part, Navarro said the filing of a joint complaint against the justices is testimony that they will wage an all-out campaign against plunder and corruption.