SC Justice Martires denies writing plea deal grant for ex-AFP comptroller Garcia

Ina Reformina, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jul 18 2018 04:34 PM | Updated as of Jul 18 2018 07:06 PM

(UPDATED) Supreme Court Associate Justice Samuel Martires has clarified that he did not pen the Sandiganbayan decision that granted the plea bargain deal between the Office of the Ombudsman and former AFP comptroller Major General Carlos Garcia, and he was but among the magistrates that handed down the ruling. 

In a text message to ABS-CBN News on Wednesday Martires said, “I am not the ponente (author) in the plea bargain decision of the Sandiganbayan 2nd Division. It is Justice Teresita Baldos who wrote the ponencia.”

Martires’ clarification is in light of recent attacks on him over the issue following his application for the post of Ombudsman. Incumbent Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales, a former magistrate of the high court, is set to retire on July 26. 

Another Ombudsman candidate, former Sandiganbayan Presiding Justice and now Ombudsman Special Prosecutor Edilberto Sandoval, chaired the 2nd Division at the time the plea bargain agreement was approved but the issue has not been raised against him before the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC), the body constitutionally mandated to screen applicants to the post.

In contrast, a formal opposition was lodged against Martires before the JBC by a group of “Catholic priests, Evangelical pastors, and theological teachers” over the Garcia plea bargain deal. 

Also, on Wednesday, the camp of ousted Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno sent to reporters an email that contained a statement “from the Group of Evangelical and Catholic theological educators on the Supreme Court's recommendation of Associate Justice Samuel Martires for Ombudsman.” The group expressed “outrage” at the high court’s unanimous endorsement of Martires for the Ombudsman post during its en banc session on Tuesday, citing the Garcia plea bargain deal as one of the issues they have against Martires.

Garcia faced plunder raps before the anti-graft court after a lifestyle check revealed millions of pesos and properties in his name, including a unit at the Trump Plaza Condominium in New York. The plunder case covered some P300-million pesos in cash and properties. Garcia was also slapped with a money laundering case and his and the rest of his family's assets ordered frozen.

The plea bargain deal reduced Garcia's cases to direct bribery and facilitating money laundering; he admitted guilt to the lesser offenses and surrendered to the state P150 million in cash, real estate properties, and motor vehicles.

CA UPHELD GARCIA PLEA BARGAIN IN 2016

On July 22, 2016, the Court of Appeals affirmed the Sandiganbayan’s grant of the plea bargain agreement, as it ruled that the deal was lawful.

The case stemmed from a petition filed by Ombudsman Special Prosecutor Wendell Barreras-Sulit who was sacked in 2013 by the Aquino administration for entering into the plea bargain agreement. 

In its ruling, the CA ordered Sulit’s reinstatement. 

"The Plebara (plea bargain agreement) does not violate existing rules and jurisprudence. Plea bargaining in criminal cases is a process whereby the accused and the prosecution work out a mutually satisfactory disposition of the case subject to court approval... In our jurisdiction, Section 2, Rule 116 of the revised Rules of Court allows the accused to plea bargain provided the requisites stated therein are complied with," the decision read.

The appellate court also agreed with the Ombudsman's position that the anti-graft office may enter into a plea bargain deal as provided for under Section 11 of the Ombudsman Act of 1989. 

"[C]onsidering that the Sandiganbayan approved the Plebara, the same demonstrates the said court's belief that the evidence of the people against [Garcia] is not sufficiently strong to convict... We believe that the Plebara was the outcome of a prudent, reasonable and practical evaluation of the cases against Maj. Gen. Carlos Garcia, a solution that would best serve the interest of the nation and its people," the CA said.

SC TROs AGREEMENT

The Sandiganbayan was, however, restrained by the SC in July 2013 from implementing the promulgation of judgement in the Garcia plunder case based on the plea bargain agreement struck between him and the Ombudsman.

The high court’s Third Division issued a temporary restraining order in favor of the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) which elevated its case before the SC after the Sandiganbayan denied its plea to participate in the Garcia plunder case.

The OSG urged the Sandiganbayan to nullify the plea bargain deal but the anti-graft court stood pat on its ruling as it pointed out that the office had “no legal personality” or authority to intervene in the Garcia case. The Sandiganbayan also maintained that its plea bargain grant was in accordance with law and jurisprudence and in the best interest of the government.

The Third Division then was composed of Associate Justices Presbitero Velasco, Jr., Diosdado Peralta, Roberto Abad, Jose Mendoza, and Marvic Leonen. 

Abad and Mendoza have since retired while Velasco is set to retire on August 8.

The OSG case is still pending before the SC.