De Lima says Garcia plea bargain illegal

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Dec 20 2010 11:54 AM | Updated as of Dec 21 2010 01:17 AM

Justice chief: Compromise bears signs of collusion with prosecutors

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) - Justice Secretary Leila de Lima will run after the special prosecutor who allowed former military comptroller Maj. Gen. Carlos Garcia escape with the P303. 27 million he allegedly stole from the government coffers.

In a press release issued on Monday, de Lima did not mince words over how Special Prosecutor Wendell Barreras-Sulit and his team entered into an “illegal and unconscionable” deal with Garcia, who got out of jail on Saturday after posting bail to a lesser offense than plunder.

She said the deal was attended by the prosecutors’ “participation, if not collusion…”

“The DoJ is minded, as it feels obligated, to ensure that the accused plunderer reprieved by the Ombudsman is not so easily made to escape just punishment for his prodigious crimes against the people, or the Ombudsman Special Prosecutor relieved from his own accountability for this injustice…,” de Lima said.

She admitted that the President does not have disciplinary authority over the Ombudsman.

She stressed, nonetheless, that the special prosecutor cannot go scot-free. Section 8 of the Ombudsman Act of 1989 dictates that the special prosecutor may be removed by the President for any grounds provided for the removal of the Ombudsman.

De Lima said she will assign a team of prosecutors, if needed, to assist the Office of the President in investigating and preparing the formal charges against Sulit.

“He should be held accountable for administrative or criminal offenses that he may have committed in entering into a disadvantageous and illegal deal with 1 of the biggest plunderers in this nation’s history,” she added.

In a separate statement, Sulit denounced de Lima’s claims, saying any comments regarding the merit of the plea “is premature and contemptuous, specially the malicious insinuations that there was collusion between the parties…”

He said it is unfortunate that de Lima released her own statement without first knowing the facts of the case.

“As far as the prosecution is concerned, the plea bargaining agreement is in accord with the prevailing jurisprudence,” he said.

President Benigno directed Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa on Saturday to review the deal that allowed Garcia to walk out of jail. He also ordered the Ombudsman to explain.

The Sandiganabayan allowed Garcia to post a P60,000 bail, even if it was originally hearing a plunder case – a non-bailable offense.

This could mean that it had already approved the deal, wherein Garcia agreed to return part of the P303.27 million he supposedly stole in exchange for the lesser charges of direct bribery and money laundering.

The court has yet to issue a resolution on the matter.

Garcia’s wife and 3 sons are his co-accused in the plunder case. They were arrested in the United States on different dates between 2003 and 2009 and are now awaiting extradition.

De Lima explained plea bargaining at such stage of the trial proceedings is a “restricted matter.”

Rule 116, Section 2 of the Rules of Court provides that the accused may only plea to a lesser offense before or after an arraignment.

“In this case, the plea to the lesser offense…was made long after trial has already started…This irregularity in the deal also shows that other considerations might have influenced or attended its hatching,” she added.

This goes to show how the anti-corruption efforts can “easily be derailed by the half-hearted and less than forthright actions of the very institution constitutionally tasked to put grafters to the bar of justice,” she said.