OSG ‘has no power of control, supervision over Office of the Ombudsman’ — SC

Published June 1, 2021, 2:14 PM

by Rey Panaligan 

Supreme Court (SC)

The Supreme Court (SC) has declared that the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG), the government’s law office, “has no power of control or supervision” over the Office of the Ombudsman (OMB), an independent constitutional body.

It also said that the OSG’s authority to represent the government is not plenary or all-encompassing as it pointed out that the mandate to represent the government before the Sandiganbayan generally lies with the OMB.

With its declaration, the SC dismissed the petition filed by the OSG which challenged the plea bargaining agreement in 2010 between the Office of the Special Prosecutor (OSP) of the OMB and retired Maj. Gen.Carlos F. Garcia, former comptroller of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).

Citing court records, the SC’s public information office (PIO) said that Garcia was charged criminally with separate cases for plunder and money laundering for conspiring with co-accused, including family members, to amass alleged ill-gotten wealth in the form of funds, landholdings and other real and personal properties worth over P303.2 million.

Only Garcia was arraigned in both cases which were eventually consolidated. He pleaded not guilty to the charges.

In 2010, Garcia entered into a plea bargaining agreement with the OSP. The agreement was approved by then Ombudsman Merceditas N. Gutierrez.

He withdrew his guilty plea to plunder and pleaded guilty to a lesser offense of indirect bribery. Instead of money laundering, he pleaded guilty to facilitating money laundering.

As part of the agreement, Garcia offered to cede to the government P135.4 million worth of cash and real and personal properties owned by him and members of his family.

The Sandiganbayan allowed Garcia to post bail.

On a motion filed by the OSG for the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC), the Manila regional trial court allowed the transfer of Garcia’s assets to the government as the court recognized the plea bargaining agreement.

On the OSG’s petition challenging the plea bargaining agreement, the SC – in a decision written by Associate Justice Marvic M. V. F. Leonen – said:

“The government was already rightfully represented by the Office of the Ombudsman in the plunder case [against Garcia] before the Sandiganbayan. Thus, the Office of the Solicitor General overstepped its bounds by insisting on providing additional representation.

“Further, the Office of the Solicitor General had no power of control or supervision over the Office of the Ombudsman, an independent constitutional body. It had no authority to impose on the latter’s handling of the Plea Bargaining Agreement was grossly disadvantageous to the government and the people’s welfare.

“The OSG had no authority to impose on the [Ombudsman’s] handling of the Plea Bargaining Agreement, even if it strongly believed that the Plea Bargaining Agreement was grossly disadvantageous to the government and the people’s welfare.

“Hence, any review of a plea bargain approved by the Office of the Ombudsman would be tantamount to an appeal on a question of fact and not the proper subject of a petition for certiorari.”

The SC pointed out that while it dismissed the OSG’s petition, it “will not interfere with the substance of or the wisdom behind the Plea Bargaining Agreement, as that falls squarely within the Office of the Ombudsman’s mandate of investigating and prosecuting erring government employees.”

 
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