Ex-Gen. Garcia walks free

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Dec 18 2010 11:31 AM | Updated as of Dec 19 2010 03:13 AM

Ex-Gen. Garcia walks free 1MANILA, Philippines (2nd UPDATE) - After 6 years in detention for perjury and plunder charges, former military comptroller Maj. Gen. Carlos F. Garcia walked free Saturday morning from police detention after pleading guilty to a lesser offense of direct bribery.

Reports on ANC's "Dateline Philippines" and radio dzMM said Garcia was fetched by his lawyer Constantino de Jesus from the Philippine National Police (PNP) Custodial Center in Camp Crame around 11 a.m.

ABS-CBN's Israel Malasa reported on ANC that Garcia repeatedly said "Thank you!" to reporters, who have been waiting for his release outside the detention facility since he posted a P60,000 bail on Thursday afternoon.

Before Garcia walked out of the custodial center, the former general was subjected to a medical checkup.

His lawyer said that right after the release, Garcia would work on the cases of his wife and sons.

Garcia's lawyers filed a petition to post bail hours after he pleaded guilty to a lesser offense of direct bribery before the Sandiganbayan 2nd Division on Thursday morning.

Garcia was detained in October 2004 on perjury and plunder charges for illegally acquiring at least P302 million while he was comptroller of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).

His wife and children were named co-defendants for allegedly helping him conceal suspected unlawfully acquired assets.

The Garcia family is also facing money laundering charges following alleged withdrawals from their numerous bank accounts.

Two of Garcia's sons are facing bulk cash smuggling charges in a US court for attempting to slip US$100,000 into the United States from the Philippines in 2003. The government is working for their extradition.

Before Garcia's anticipated release, military spokesman Maj. Gen. Jose Mabanta Jr. said the PNP does not need to clear with the Armed Forces of the Philippines before releasing the retired general.

"Actually he has been cleared from all liabilities from the AFP. A general court martial in 2005 already convicted General Garcia. It is really beyond us now," Mabanta said.

Sandiganbayan spokesperson Renato Bocar had clarified that Garcia's release should only be temporary pending the 2nd Division's final ruling on the former general's guilty plea to the direct bribery.

Bocar, however, said that Garcia may not return to jail since the offense of direct bribery carries a penalty of 6 years to 10 years imprisonment.

He said that the time spent by Garcia in detention will be counted in his sentence's implementation. If the former general gets the minimum 6 years penalty, he would already be eligible to be freed.

Bocar also announced that the plea bargaining agreement between Garcia and the Office of the Ombudsman is "presumably approved." He said that the Sandiganbayan 2nd Division would not allow him to post bail if the plea bargain has not been approved.

He, meanwhile, assured that the court may order Garcia to return all the assets that he illegally required while in military service.

'Illegal' and 'anomalous'

Former Ombudsman Simeon Marcelo said the plea bargaining agreement is "illegal" and "anomalous" since it goes against the interests of the Philippine government.

Marcelo said the agreement came at a time when the government is already on the brink of winning the plunder and forfeiture cases.

"I found this (plea bargaining agreement) very anomalous," Marcelo said during an interview on ANC's Top Story on Friday afternoon.

"There is already a ruling by the Sandiganbayan that the prosecution has presented sufficient evidence to convict Garcia beyond reasonable doubt. There is also a pending forfeiture case against him. In other words, 99% panalo na [ang government]," he added.

He added that the plea bargaining agreement is illegal because under the rules of court, it can only be entered if the prosecution has not yet started the presentation of evidence.

"In this case, the prosecution has already completed it. Further, the court has already ruled that the prosecution has presented sufficient evidence to convict Garcia," he said in a text message. -- Reports from Israel Malasa, ABS-CBN News and Dennis Datu, radio dzMM