by: Christine O. Avendaño Philippine Daily Inquirer 07/04/2013
The Supreme Court on Wednesday stopped the proceedings in the Sandiganbayan against retired Maj. Gen. Carlos Garcia that resulted from a plea bargain hammered out in February 2010 with then Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez downgrading plunder charges to lesser offenses.
The former comptroller of the Armed Forces of the Philippines is being tried for direct bribery and facilitating money laundering after the government dropped the P303-million plunder charges that carry a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.
Supreme Court spokesman Theodore Te said the tribunal’s Third Division, in issuing a temporary restraining order (TRO), acted on the certiorari petition filed by the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) against the Sandiganbayan Special Second Division as well as the Office of the Ombudsman, the Office of the Special Prosecutor and Garcia. The Sandiganbayan division has not set a date yet for Garcia’s sentencing on the lesser charges under the deal that allowed Garcia, his wife, Clarita, and sons Ian Carl, Juan Paulo and Timothy Mark to walk away from the plunder charges.
Direct bribery is punishable by six to 10 years in jail, money laundering from seven to 14 years’ imprisonment.
“Without giving due course to the petition, the court required the respondents to comment on the petition within 10 days from notice and in order not to render the instant petition moot and academic, issued a TRO effective immediately enjoining the respondent Sandiganbayan from continuing with the proceedings … and promulgating judgment based on the assailed plea bargaining agreement,” Te told a news briefing.
He also said the court also stopped the Sandiganbayan from implementing the Dec. 16, 2010, resolution approving Garcia’s request for bail.
The OSG, on orders of President Aquino, went to the Supreme Court after the Sandiganbayan denied the government lawyers’ bid to intervene in the proceedings and turned down their subsequent motion for reconsideration.
The plea bargain forced Gutierrez to resign in May 2011 before the Senate could start her impeachment trial for betrayal of public trust.
Gutierrez, who was appointed by former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, was impeached by the House of Representatives for approving the Garcia plea bargain.
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima welcomed the high court’s action. “That’s a very good sign the Supreme Court would be able to take a really hard look at the issues and study the very significant issues raised in the petition of the OSG,” she said.