MANILA, Philippines - The Sandiganbayan has restrained the parties in the plunder case against former military comptroller Carlos Garcia amid the backlash caused by a recent action of the Office of the Ombudsman and its special prosecutors.
“It appearing that various unfounded comments have been made that only confuse issues and do not in any way serve the ends of justice, the parties, lawyers and representatives are hereby ordered to refrain from issuing press releases, granting press interviews, and making any comments…pending the promulgation [of the decision]," the order from Sandiganbayan 2nd Division read.
The gag order was read by Deputy Special Prosecutor Jesus Micael during a press conference at the Office of the Ombudsman.
Assistant Ombudsman Jose de Jesus said the office, together with the special prosecutors assigned to the case, will respect the gag order issued despite the criticisms hurled against them. De Jesus said they wanted to set things straight, but would rather respect the rule of law.
The Sandiganbayan postponed ruling on the plunder and money laundering cases against Garcia Wednesday morning. Sources said the respondent failed to file relevant documents needed by the court.
The anti-graft court was getting ready for the issuance of the ruling following the submission of the plea bargaining agreement that Garcia entered into with the Ombudsman.
Under the deal submitted on December 16, Garcia pleaded guilty to lesser offenses of direct bribery and violation of Section 4 (b) of the Anti-Money Laundering Act.
Malacañang was apparently not happy with the plea deal that allowed Garcia to be released from detention on Saturday.
Government officials, led by Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said the deal was illegal and unconscionable. President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III has already directed the Ombudsman to explain the matter, noting the government had the upper hand in getting all P303.27 million that Garcia supposedly stole from the nation’s coffers.
De Jesus said the Ombudsman preferred to keep quiet despite criticisms on the plea bargain deal.
“Nitong mga nagdaang araw ay kung ano anong balita sa radyo, pahayagan, TV, at sa lahat ng uri ng media na naglalayon na sirain ang tanggapan ng Ombudsman sa pamamagitan ng paghahasik ng binhi ng pagkapoot, pagkamuhi at paghamak sa kakayahan ng ating Ombudsman,” de Jesus lamented.
He stressed they were about to tell all if not for the gag order.
“Kahit na kami ay nagsa-suffer at nasasaktan sa mga batikos na hindi makatwiran na dumarating sa amin, nagsikap pa rin kami na manahimik at sabi namin kami ay mga abugado, kami ay mga tagapagtaguyod ng batas at kumikilala sa awtoridad ng ating mga hukuman,” he said.