Trillanes: Garcia set to talk but got scared 
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 01:12:00 01/13/2011

Filed Under: Graft & Corruption, Military, Crime and Law and Justice, Judiciary (system of justice), Legal issues,agreements

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MANILA, Philippines—Ex-military comptroller Carlos Garcia, who has entered into a plea bargain with state prosecutors to elude a plunder charge, was “fronting” for a powerful person and wanted to talk about it two years ago, but was scared, Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV said Wednesday.

“Garcia is a front for somebody powerful. In 2009, he was willing to talk but he got afraid,” Trillanes said in an interview with ABS-CBN.

The senator declined to identify the powerful person but said he had disclosed the name to certain people in Malacañang. He said he had communicated and played basketball with Garcia when they were both in detention.

Days after news of Garcia’s plea bargain with prosecutors broke, Trillanes blamed the Office of the Ombudsman for the agreement.

Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano, chair of the Senate ethics committee, had asked the government to use Garcia as a witness to convict ranking officials behind the corruption in the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).

“There’s a bigger fish that’s damaging our case, and we should use all opportunities to ask General Garcia who’s the bigger fish,” Cayetano said, agreeing that this should have been made a condition for the plea bargain.

Garcia is charged with plunder for allegedly stealing P303 million from state coffers. He is out on bail after pleading guilty to the lesser offenses of bribery and money laundering.

House inquiry

Two separate resolutions, one filed by Parañaque Rep. Roilo Golez, and another by Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez and Abante Mindanao party-list Rep. Maximo Rodriguez Jr., were filed Wednesday seeking an inquiry into the plea bargain.

“There is an urgent need to look into measures to obviate resort to such deals and acts with the end in view of improving the legal processes in our present criminal justice system, strengthening the existing law on plunder and other anti-graft legislation, and restoring the integrity and public confidence in the AFP, the Office of the Ombudsman and the Sandiganbayan,” Golez said.

Rufus Rodriguez said business groups, the clergy, former soldiers and former prosecutors had raised concerns about the plea bargain and were clamoring for its abrogation. He said the agreement could embolden other plunderers to take the same route.

The plea bargain was signed on Feb. 25, 2010, by Garcia and his lawyer Constantino de Jesus with Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez, Special Prosecutor Wendell Sulit, Deputy Special Prosecutor Robert Kallos, Deputy Special Prosecutor Jesus Micael, Assistant Special Prosecutor Jose Balmeo and Assistant Prosecutor Joseph Capistrano.

The agreement required Garcia to surrender to the state only P135.433 million worth of assets, and effectively cleared his wife Clarita and their three sons—his co-accused in the plunder and money laundering cases—of liability.

On March 16, 2010, the prosecutors and Garcia filed a joint motion for the approval of the agreement in the Sandiganbayan’s second division.

On May 4, 2010, the motion was granted and the agreement approved.

Golez noted that the agreement was made after a special Sandiganbayan division resolved to deny Garcia’s petition for bail on Jan. 7, 2010, on the basis of the fact that the prosecution’s evidence to establish his guilt was strong.

A month before Garcia was released on bail last December, prosecutors told the Sandiganbayan that he had “substantially complied” with the requirements set by the anti-graft court for the approval of the plea bargain.

This was according to a manifestation dated Nov. 22, 2010, and filed by the prosecutors handling Garcia’s case. It was signed by Balmeo and Capistrano.

The prosecutors said most of the assets listed in the plea bargain had been transferred to the state, as required by the Sandiganbayan in its May 4, 2010, resolution.

The Office of the Solicitor General (OSG), which has opposed the plea bargain and is seeking to intervene in the case, earlier said that the May 4 resolution showed that the court had approved the deal.

But the justices of the Sandiganbayan’s second division pointed out on Monday that several actions were required “before the plea bargain may be approved.” The justices said there was no approval of the agreement in the resolution.

Still, the OSG insisted that the agreement was “virtually” approved because Garcia had transferred some of his assets to the state, and was granted bail after being allowed to plead guilty to lesser offenses.

The assets to be transferred to the state include the Trump Park Avenue condominium in New York (P43.155 million); real estate in Iloilo (P10.69 million), Batangas (P7.60 million), Baguio (P2.8 million) and Guimaras (P165,372); and seven vehicles (P4.42 million).

Included as well are cash in Philippine banks amounting to P52.51 million; cash in US banks amounting to P13.85 million; 20,000 shares of stocks in IJT caregiver; and 3,000 shares of stock in Katamnan Corp.

Dissatisfaction

At a briefing for reporters, President Benigno Aquino III’s deputy spokesperson Abigail Valte expressed Malacañang’s dissatisfaction with Sulit’s explanation of the plea bargain.

Valte also took exception to Sulit’s claim that certain people were feeding Mr. Aquino wrong information on the plunder case.

“You should ask them why they are not forthcoming with the proper explanation,” Valte told reporters in reference to state prosecutors led by Sulit.

She said Sulit had not really answered the questions spawned by the agreement.

Strong evidence vs accused

Valte said Palace lawyers had studied the court records of Garcia’s case and found “strong evidence” against him.

To Sulit’s claim that the prosecutors believed they had a weak case because no military contractor or supplier came forward to testify against Garcia, Valte said the prosecutors were indeed not able to find them because there were “no real suppliers” as shown in the court records.

“Instead of saying that the President was given wrong information, they should start saying why they entered into such a deal,” she said. Reports from TJ Burgonio, Cynthia D. Balana, Leila B. Salaverria and Christine O. Avendaño