Ex-AFP comptroller ret. Maj. Gen. Garcia escapes long jail term on plea bargaining

Published July 6, 2022, 12:10 PM

by Czarina Nicole Ong Ki


Instead of a prison term ranging from 20 to 40 years for the crime of plunder, retired Maj. Gen. Carlos F. Garcia, former comptroller of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), has been convicted by the Sandiganbayan of a lesser offense of direct bribery with jail term of four to eight years.

In a decision issued last July 5, the Sandiganbayan also convicted Garcia of a lesser offense of facilitating money laundering, instead of money laundering, for which he was sentenced to a prison term ranging from five to six years.

In the direct bribery conviction, the anti-graft court imposed on Garcia a fine of P406,300,162 “or three times the total value of the gifts received as per plea bargaining agreement, with subsidiary imprisonment in case of insolvency.”

For facilitating money laundering, he was directed to pay a fine of P1.5 million for violating Section 4, Paragraph b of Republic Act No. 9160, the Anti-Money Laundering Act.

The Sandiganbayan’s decision was based on the plea bargaining agreement Garcia struck with the Office of the Special Prosecutor (OSP) of the Office of the Ombudsman (OMB) in 2010.

Plea bargaining is “a process of negotiation between the prosecution and defense in a criminal case whereby the accused – in return for leniency or a lighter sentence – agrees to plead guilty to a lesser offense.”

Garcia was charged criminally with plunder and money laundering for conspiring with several persons, 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 Office of the Solicitor General (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.

The OSG then challenged the plea bargaining agreement before the Supreme Court (SC) which dismissed the petition in 2020 in the decision written by Associate Justice Marvic M. V. F. Leonen, now senior associate justice.

The SC ruled:

“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.”

In rendering judgment based on the plea bargaining agreement, the Sandiganbayan said:

“At this juncture, it must be emphasized that this Court 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.

“Absent any blatant evidence of irregularity or grave abuse of discretion, this Court will generally confine itself to the legal and technical issues surrounding a plea bargaining agreement or any similar agreement.”

The cases against Garcia’s co-accused — family members, Clarita D. Garcia, Ian Carl D. Garcia, Juan Paulo D. Garcia, Timothy Mark D. Garcia — have been ordered archived pending their arrest or voluntary surrender.

Sandiganbayan Second Division Chairperson Oscar C. Herrera Jr. penned the eight-page decision with the concurrence of Associate Justices Michael Frederick L. Musngi and Arthur O. Malabaguio.