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Raps pressed vs plea deal prosecutors

MANILA, Philippines -  Sen. Franklin Drilon called yesterday for the filing of charges against government special prosecutors involved in the plea bargaining agreement with former military comptroller Carlos Garcia.

Drilon said the special prosecutors should be charged for “prosecutorial negligence.”

“They should be removed. They should be facing administrative charges for these offenses,” Drilon said during an interview over dzBB.

Drilon said the special prosecutors had been grossly negligent when they allowed Garcia, who was on trial for plunder, to plead guilty to a lesser offense and be freed on bail.

He said the actions of the special prosecutors in allowing Garcia to strike a deal provided sufficient basis to remove them from office.

Drilon said the prosecutors, who are presidential appointees, could be removed for cause.

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He said the Senate investigation into Garcia’s plea bargaining agreement with the Sandiganbayan seemed to be already in effect after the plunder charges were reduced to direct bribery and the general was allowed to post bail.

Under the deal, the Ombudsman would withdraw the plunder case against Garcia, who would plead guilty to the lesser offenses of bribery and facilitating money laundering.

The former military comptroller also agreed to return to the government P135 million of the P303 million he is accused of plundering. So far, he has turned over to the Ombudsman about P50 million in dollar and peso deposits.

The Sandiganbayan has allowed the accused to post a P60,000 bail. The right to bail is not available in a plunder case.

Legal luminaries at the Senate said “double jeopardy” might set in if the Sandiganbayan will not approve the agreement. 

Since Garcia has been incarcerated for about six years, the jail term for bribery, where he pleaded guilty, is deemed served.

The Senate investigation into the plea bargaining agreement also uncovered several anomalies in the military with the testimonies of witnesses detailing how high-ranking officials had skimmed off funds for personal use.

In moderation

Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV, a former Navy officer, said that if Garcia was able to amass more than P300 million, he suggested that those in a higher position might have gotten more.

Trillanes declared Thursday it is not far-fetched that corruption in the military even went all the way up to former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, on the other hand, said Trillanes should prove his allegations in linking Arroyo to corruption in the military.

“There must be evidence that exists. If he (Trillanes) had the suspicions against the former president, then he must present his evidence to the public at the soonest possible time,” Enrile said.

Enrile warned Trillanes that he could be subjected to disciplinary action should he give a false testimony on Arroyo’s involvement in alleged corruption in the military.

“He (Trillanes) would be testifying under oath. If what he’s saying is true, he should have to stand the cross-examination,” Enrile said.

Enrile said senators must start observing “moderate proceedings” during Senate investigations in the light of last week’s suicide of former Defense secretary Angelo Reyes.

The Senate investigations had linked Reyes to the allegations of receiving hefty amounts as sendoff money after retiring as Armed Forces chief.

Lawmakers themselves called on the review of the rules regarding the conduct of congressional inquiries on the heels of accusations that the Senate investigation drove Reyes to suicide.

Drilon, for his part, said there is “no urgency” to revise the rules on Senate investigations.

“We could revise the rules, not because (Reyes) committed suicide, but because there is a valid need to revise them,” Drilon said.

“We should not limit the style and the manner of questioning (of resource persons during the hearing). We need to throw the questions in the interest to divulge the truth,” Drilon said.

As far as Enrile is concerned, Reyes’ death should not bog down the Senate investigation into some unprofessional conduct in the military.

“I will not allow the investigation to end,” he said. “We have to finish the investigation to its final conclusion.”

While it was “unfortunate” that Reyes killed himself amid the ongoing investigation, Enrile said the Senate is serving a bigger interest for the country.

“It is unfortunate that somebody took his life because of any investigation done by us... If we’re going to stop that, the country, not us, will suffer the consequences. We are serving the interest of the nation,” Enrile said.

Lifestyle check

On the other hand, Cavite Rep. Joseph Emilio Abaya Jr., chairman of the committee on appropriations of the House of Representatives, urged Malacañang to initiate a lifestyle check of officials and employees of the Commission on Audit (COA).

Abaya made the call following allegations of former state auditor Heidi Mendoza that some of her former colleagues in COA were in cahoots with corrupt military officials.

Mendoza was a key witness in the congressional investigations into corruption in the military.

Mendoza alleged that some of her colleagues received bribes from some military officials to look the other way. This prompted COA Chairman Reynaldo Villar to review the assignments of auditors embedded in various government agencies.

“Definitely a lifestyle check should be made. Corruption can be greatly minimized if COA auditors are not in cahoots with those who want to steal from government coffers,” Abaya said.

Citizens Battle Against Corruption party-list Rep. Sherwin Tugna also said COA auditors should be among those in the forefront in the fight against corruption.

“Like all other public officials, they are not exempt from lifestyle checks. And that includes members of the House of Representatives. The law applies to all, otherwise none at all,” Tugna said.

Gabriela party-list Rep. Luzviminda Ilagan said checking on COA members “is an issue of who monitors the monitor.”

“For so long, we were very complacent the COA was the last bastion of ensuring that agencies were following correct procedures and keeping within the straight path. Now there are questions and doubts. This is alarming. Where do we go?” Ilagan said. - With Paolo Romero

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