SC stops Garcia plea bargain deal

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) - The Supreme Court on Wednesday, July 3, issued a temporary restraining order on the plea bargain deal between the Ombudsman and former military comptroller ret Maj Gen Carlos Garcia. That deal was previously upheld by the Sandiganbayan.

"Without giving due course the court required the respondents and Sandiganbayan to comment within 10 days from notice and in order not to render the instant petition moot and academic, issue a Temporary Restraining Order effective immediately enjoining the respondent Sandiganbayan from continuing in proceedings," SC spokesperson Theodore Te said.

"The TRO is only in relation to enjoining the proceedings in the Sandiganbayan and enjoining the Sandiganbayan from promulgating judgment based on the plea bargaining agreement," Te explained.

The TRO was based on a petition last week by the Office of the Solicitor General, which questioned an earlier decision by the Sandiganbayan upholding the validity of the Garcia plea bargain.

The plea bargain allowed Garcia to plead to lesser offenses in exchange for the dropping of plunder charges against him. This agreement between the Ombudsman and Garcia's lawyers was widely criticized and triggered the resignation of then Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez.

The High Court's order stops the implementation of the controversial deal and the bail that Garcia was allowed to post as a result of the deal. (Garcia remains in jail in Muntinlupa to serve a military sentence for being a green card holder when he was in the armed forces.)

On April 10, the Sandiganbayan Special Second Division sustained the validity of Garcia’s plea bargain, in exchange for the withdrawal of the plunder and anti-money laundering charges filed against him.

In that ruling, the Sandiganbayan also junked with finality the motion for reconsideration filed by the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) to set aside the plea bargain.

Systemic corruption

The case against Garcia, whose sons were arrested in 2003 at a US airport for smuggling dollars, exposed systemic corruption in the miltary and eventually led to a restructuring of the institution's financial units. He was accused of converting millions of military funds into cash that went to his personal coffers. 

The bargain deal allowed Garcia, his wife Clarita, and sons Ian Carl, Juan Paulo, and Timothy Mark to walk away from plunder charges in exchange for his pleading guilty to lesser offenses of direct bribery and facilitating money laundering. (Read: Garcia: How the big fish got away)

It triggered ouster calls against Gutierrez, an appointee of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. She was impeached by the House of Representatives for hammering out an agreement that various sectors said betrayed public interest.

She quit in May 2011, a few days before the Senate was to start her impeachment trial.

President Benigno Aquino III also called for the nullification of the plea bargain deal, prompting intervention by the Office of the Solicitor General. Vice President Jejomar Binay, however, asked him to reconsider his position. (Read: Binay lobbied for general charged with plunder). - Rappler.com