MANILA, Philippines – The Court of Appeals (CA) has advised Malacañang to practice judicial courtesy in implementing executive decisions that have been brought to court.
In a 25-page ruling dated August 30 and penned by Associate Justice Agnes-Reyes Carpio, the CA’s Eight Division denied a petition by Special Prosecutor Wendell Barreras-Sulit, who had asked the court to stop a Palace probe into charges she’s not fit for the job.
Sulit was the Special Prosecutor who in 2010 led a legal team that entered into a discredited plea bargaining agreement with former military comptroller ret Maj Gen Carlos Garcia. The agreement, recently upheld by the Sandiganbayan, led to the dismissal of the plunder case against Garcia.
When the Office of the President (OP) formed an investigating committee to probe Sulit, she went to the Court of Appeals to stop the process. She said Malacañang should not conduct an administrative complaint against her without a formal hearing, claiming this violated her right to due process.
The former special prosecutor argued that she should have been allowed to present evidence and to cross-examine the witnesses against her.
While her petition was pending, however, the Office of the President proceeded with its probe and dismissed Sulit on July 19, 2013.
In its August 30 decision, the CA said there was no violation of Sulit’s right to due process. “She, however, equates formal investigation with formal hearing, which should not be the case, for there can be a formal investigation without having a formal hearing,” the CA said.
The court explained that Sulit’s insistence that she should be allowed to cross-examine witnesses against her was unnecessary. “To be sure, there is nothing wrong with the judicial affidavits taking place the direct testimony of the witnesses, subject to cross-examination if the adverse party so desires,” the CA added.
But while it denied Sulit’s petition, the CA reminded the OP’s investigating team “to observe procedural and substantive due process, regardless of their personal views and convictions.”
The appellate court noted that while the draft of its decision was being prepared, Sulit informed the court that the investigating committee has recommended her dismissal from the service in a decision issued on July 19, 2013.
“There maybe a public uproar calling for her removal from office. But not because she is condemned she gets less protection,” the CA stressed.
“While the CA acknowledged it cannot ask the Executive branch to observe judiciary courtesy by simply first awaiting the decision of the Court of Appeals (CA), particularly if one of the issues raised in the subject case pertain to the constitutional right to due process of the petitioner/s, before submitting the case for decision to the president, it will not make those involved in administrative proceedings lesser persons if they, by their own volition, observe the reason for the principle of judiciary courtesy — respect for law and legal process,” it added.
Garcia, his wife Clarita and their 3 sons were charged with plunder and money laundering in April 2005. The plunder case revolved around charges he pocketed P303 million in military funds while he was comptroller of the military.
The Garcia scandal led to the abolition of the office of the comptroller in the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
On March 16, 2010, Sulit and her staff entered into a plea bargaining agreement with Garcia wherein he pleaded to lesser crimes and agreed to return to goverment less than half of the P303 million he allegedly pocketed. The Sandiganbayan eventually upheld the deal, allowing him to post bail.
The Office of the Solicitor General however questioned the anti-graft’s ruling before the Supreme Court.
In July this year, the High Court stopped the implementation of the plea bargain deal. Garcia is presently detained in New Bilibid Prisons over charges filed against him by the military. – Rappler.com