Thursday, 13 January 2011 11:20
Last December 16, 2010, in a move that surprised the Aquino administration, Maj. Gen. Carlos Garcia (ret.) pleaded guilty to a lesser crime of direct bribery and facilitating money laundering. In return, Garcia would surrender P135 million out of the P303 million he allegedly plundered. As part of the plea bargain, Garcia “cleared” his wife Clarita and sons Juan Paulo, Ian Carl, and Timothy Mark – who were all co-accused – of involvement in the plunder case. In essence, Garcia would keep the remaining P168 million and charged with a lesser crime, and would be set free as a bird. What a deal!
On the same day that Garcia pleaded to a lesser crime, the Office of the Ombudsman –which prosecutes graft cases – prematurely “granted” him bail after posting P60,000, although the power to grant bail lies with the anti-graft court Sandiganbayan. Two days later, Garcia was released from detention. And as soon as he walked out of jail, he vanished without a trace.
There is confusion as to whether the plea bargaining agreement has been approved by the Sandiganbayan or not.
Last January 5, 2011, the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) – who represents the government on matters before the courts -- filed before the Sandiganbayan a motion to allow them to intervene on behalf of the government in the plea bargaining agreement between the Ombudsman and Garcia, which the OSG claimed was approved by the Sandiganbayan on May 4, 2010. OSG said that it was necessary to seek intervention because the Sandiganbayan approved the plea bargaining agreement allowing Garcia to plead guilty to lesser crimes instead of plunder, which the OSG claimed was backed by strong evidence.
Last January 10, 2011, the Sandiganbayan heard the OSG’s motion to intervene and to nullify the plea bargaining agreement between the Ombudsman and Garcia and also to invalidate the bail granted to Garcia. Presiding Justice Edilberto Sandoval flatly denied the OSG’s claim that the Sandiganbayan had approved the plea bargaining agreement last May 4, 2010. He clarified that the May 4, 2010 resolution merely sets the conditions before the plea bargaining agreement could be approved. But Assistant Solicitor General Amparo Caboteje-Tang, who represented OSG at the hearing, argued that the plea bargaining agreement had been “virtually approved” since all parties had already complied with the conditions set by the Sandiganbayan. She said that this was the basis for the recommendation of the Ombudsman’s Office of Special Prosecutor (OSP) on the plea bargaining agreement. But the Sandiganbayan pointed to the last part of the plea bargaining agreement, which states: “The conditions set by the plea bargaining agreement should be complied with ‘before’ the agreement can be approved.” If so, the Sandiganbayan should then invalidate Garcia’s bail. What’s keeping it from doing so?
Malacañang echoed its displeasure through deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte who told the media, “If the Sandiganbayan says that it did not approve the plea bargain agreement on May 4, 2010, why was Garcia allowed to post bail? Why were some of the assets already turned over? The Sandiganbayan's answer in effect raised more questions. ” Indeed. Allowing Garcia to post bail was contrary to the Sandiganbayan’s majority decision (3-2), which denied Garcia’s petition for bail way back in January 2010.
But in an attempt to justify the granting of Garcia’s bail by the Ombudsman, Sandoval argued that since only three justices voted to deny bail and the other two voted to grant, if one justice changed his vote to grant bail, Garcia would have been set free. Huh? But that is pure speculation, your honor! The final vote was 3-2 to deny bail, no ifs and buts.
And in another attempt to obfuscate the issue, Sandoval said that “once an accused enters into a plea bargaining agreement and pleads guilty to lesser crimes, the latter ‘becomes the official and real indictment’ which is why it is only logical that bail be granted.” Whoa! But didn’t Sandoval say earlier that the Sandiganbayan did not yet approve the plea bargain agreement? That’s judicial voodoo, your honor! Please, stick to the rule of law.
“The end justifies the means”
It has become evident that the Sandiganbayan and the Ombudsman are not playing by the rule of law but seemingly by the Machiavellian law, “The end justifies the means.” And the “end” in this case is to set Garcia, his wife, and three sons free from charges of plunder.
But the evidence against the Garcias is ironclad, which includes signed affidavits from his wife, Clarita. Manila columnist Jarius Bondoc had the following to say in his column, GOTCHA:
“On December 19, 2003, US officers seized from Ian Carl and Juan Paolo $100,000 smuggled cash at the San Francisco international airport. Aiming to retrieve the contraband, Clarita detailed in affidavits how they came to own the huge amount. She said that as Armed Forces of the Philippines comptroller, her husband routinely took ‘gratitude money’ for approving and paying military contracts. Joining Garcia’s many inspections of manufactories abroad, they each accept up to $20,000 ‘shopping money’ from suppliers. They have a profitable plantation, a resort and a day-care in the Philippines for which they evade taxes. They get vehicles, 4,000 gallons monthly gasoline, drivers, bodyguards, and a cook-pianist from the AFP. Clarita’s sons found it a hassle to have to declare the $100,000 they were bringing into America. But not her; she dutifully had disclosed the $100,000 she carried two days earlier on December 17, another $200,000 in January 2003, and other big amounts on other times since 1993. The Philippines got hold of the info. Garcia was court-martialed and indicted at the Sandigan for plunder, with a separate forfeiture case of unexplained wealth.”
But in spite of the compelling evidence, the Ombudsman claimed that the plunder case against the Garcias was “weak,” therefore prompting government prosecutors to enter into a plea bargaining agreement. Or, could it be that the prosecutors were not too enthused or motivated to proceed with the prosecution of the charges against the Garcias?
Makes one wonder if there were powerful and influential people who would do everything they could to keep the Garcias out of jail and to ensure that none of the Garcias would plunge into murky waters and drag with them other people who may have been involved in massive corruption in the military.
It is interesting to note that somebody had shelled out $2 million in cash (P90 million) to bail out Garcia’s two sons in the US case. Who could be the person with that kind of moolah? Perhaps the Solicitor General and the Justice Department should conduct an investigation to ferret out the rich benefactor. Or could it be that whoever that benefactor was did it to protect his own interests in the lucrative military ordnance “business.”
By Perry Diaz
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