Garcia offered to return all P303-M in 2005

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/17 May) — Former military comptroller Maj. Gen. Carlos Garcia had proposed through his legal counsel in 2005, to enter a plea bargain for plunder and return the entire amount of P303 million provided that his wife and three children be excluded from the case, Deputy Ombudsman for Mindanao Humphrey Monteroso said at a forum on corruption held at the Ateneo de Davao University Tuesday morning.

He said Ombudsman Simeon Marcelo, Special prosecutor Dennis Villa-Ignacio and he “rejected the offer because we want deterrence.” At that time, ousted President Joseph Estrada’s trial for plunder was still ongoing.

Monteroso, then working as Acting Deputy Special Prosecutor at the Ombudsman’s central office in Quezon City, had prepared and signed the information for plunder in 2005. Garcia filed a motion to quash the information which the Sandiganbayan later denied. Finding probable cause, the anti-graft court then issued a warrant of arrest against Garcia and his family.

Last week, the Sandiganbayan 2nd Division approved the plea bargain agreement between Garcia and the Office of the Ombudsman, which allowed him to plead guilty to two lesser offenses – indirect bribery and violation of the Anti-Money Laundering Act – and to post bail despite a P303.27 million plunder case filed against him.

Garcia was released from prison on December 16, 2010 after posting bail for the lesser offenses.

The Sandiganbayan said Garcia turned over P135-million worth of property.

Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said it was “regrettable that what appeared to be palpably wrong as it is unconscionable to many or in the minds of many, seemed to have escaped the comprehension of the Anti-Graft Court. I would call it judicial callousness.”

Solicitor General Jose Anselmo Cadiz announced he would file a motion for reconsideration on the Sandiganbayan’s decision on the plea bargain agreement approved last year by then Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez who was impeached in March and who tendered her resignation on April 29, about ten days before her impeachment trial was set to begin. Her resignation took effect on May 6.

“Classic example of kakistocracy”

“The plea bargain agreement of Gen. Garcia and the Ombudsman and approved by the Sandiganbayan is a classic example of kakistocracy,” Monteroso said in his brief message at the Davao Colloquium on the theme “Beyond Fighting Corruption” and the launching of  Dr. Ronnie V. Amorado’s “Kakistocracy: Rule of the Unprincipled, Unethical and Unqualified.”

Kakistocracy is defined by the American Heritage Dictionary as “government by the least qualified or most unprincipled citizens.”

Monteroso told MindaNews after the forum that the offer of Garcia in 2005 to plead guilty to the crime of plunder and return the entire amount of P303 million, was relayed to him by his lawyer, Constantino de Jesus, outside the courtroom at the Sandiganbayan, while waiting for a hearing on the motion to quash information.

“Nakiramdam siguro” (maybe he was trying to test the waters),” Monteroso said.

Monteroso said he informed his immediate superior, Villa-Ignacio about the offer, who in turn informed Marcelo. He said he told the lawyer the following week, during another hearing on the motion, that the offer was turned down.

Monteroso was assigned to Davao City as Deputy Ombudsman for Mindanao in 2006.

He told the audience he would have testified on the offer had he been summoned by the investigating bodies. “Unfortunately, I was not given the opportunity,” he said.

Former regional trial court judge Adoracion Avisado commended Monteroso for his disclosure about the offer. She told MindaNews that it is  “not yet late” for the Office of the Solicitor-General to get Monteroso’s testimony to strengthen its motion for reconsideration on the Sandiganbayan’s ruling on what she described was a  “clearly anomalous” plea bargain deal.

Information weak?

At the forum, Monteroso said that when Garcia filed a petition for bail, the prosecution opposed the petition alleging it had a “strong case which if unrebutted could cause the conviction of accused Gen. Garcia beyond reasonable doubt.”

The Sandiganbayan denied the petition for bail, alleging that the prosecution had a strong case.

“After a month, the Prosecution changed its heart. It is now claiming that the information is weak and the evidence for plunder is weak. However, the prosecution was willing to enter a plea bargain agreement with Gen. Garcia for indirect bribery, provided that Gen. Garcia would return P135 million out of the P303 million allegedly plundered.”

“What happened to the difference of P168 million? Your guess is as good as mine,” he said, adding that “ironically, after Gen. Garcia languished in jail for a couple of years, he was allowed to post bail for a measly sum of P60,000 only.”

Monteroso noted that in justifying the approval of the plea bargain agreement, the court “made it appear that the information is weak and the evidence is weak.”

“With due respect, the said contention must fall flat on its face,” he said, arguing that if the information and evidence were weak, the Sandiganbayan should have dismissed or quashed the information upon filing; it should not have issued the warrant of arrest against Garcia and family; it should have granted the petition for bail; and the lawyer of Garcia “would not enter a plea of guilt nor return the amount of P135 million. After all, the evidence is weak and he is very sure that Gen. Garcia will be acquitted.”

“What is mind-boggling is the policy of our office to require the accused to restitute the entire amount (involved) but in this case the policy was not followed,” adding the amount restituted was very much less than the total involved. (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)