Sandiganbayan decision, cheap bargaining of justice

Sandiganbayan is bargaining justice—Akbayan

A day after the country’s anti-graft court ruled in favor of the plea bargain deal that the Office of the Ombudsman under former Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez entered into with former military comptroller Carlos Garcia, members of Akbayan party trooped to the office of the Sandiganbayan to protest the said decision calling it a “cheap bargaining of justice.”

To scoff at the court’s decision, members of the group arranged a “mock talipapa” to demonstrate how the Sandiganbayan bargained justice regarding its decision on the Garcia plea bargain deal. The anti-corruption advocates brandished placards styled as bargain signs, which read “plea bargain deal, bina-bargain”, “hustisya, bina-bargain” and “plea bargain deal, 50% off.”

Akbayan Acting President Marie Chris Cabreros who led the action said the decision is a “direct slap on the face of justice.”

“Bargain shops”

“It is very unfortunate that as we celebrate today the first year of the 2010 presidential elections, wherein the people elected a new government under a strong anti-corruption mandate, we see the country’s anti-graft court together with bad elements of the ombudsman acting as ‘bargain shops’ where corrupt officials haggle lopsided plea bargain deals to escape accountability,” Cabreros said.

Cabreros said the decision is “disturbing” as it legitimizes an obviously one-sided agreement, which she said heavily favored Garcia. She also said it is erroneous as the Sandiganbayan ruled in favor of an agreement wherein its main pushers led by Gutierrez filed a manifestation on the Senate’s recommendation to hold in abeyance the approval of the said deal.

“How the court judged the deal as unassailable is bewildering. Talong talo ang mamamayan sa kasunduan na ito,” Cabreros said.

Exit points for the corrupt

For her part, former Akbayan Rep. Risa Hontiveros urged the Sandiganbayan to reverse its decision saying it creates more barriers in the realization of reforms as well as exit points for corrupt officials to evade accountability.

“The anti-graft court must immediately reverse this patently wrong decision. The people recently removed the protector of the corrupt at the Office of the Ombudsman; there is no reason for the Sandiganbayan to act now as the court of the crooked. The anti-graft court should act as the “sandigan ng bayan” and not the “sandigan ng mga kurap,” Hontiveros said.

The former partylist lawmaker also urged the Aquino government to seek all the remaining legal remedies to pressure the anti-graft court to reverse its decision.

“Today we mark the first year of the 2010 elections wherein the resounding anti-corruption vote of the people was heard. We earnestly hope the people are not alone in the fight against systemic corruption. The likes of Garcia must be made accountable if the government wants to win the struggle against corruption,” Hontiveros asserted.

Merci Vindicated?

Reacting on news that the Sandiganbayan’s decision is a “vindication” of the Office of the Ombudsman and the Office of the Special Prosecutor, which entered the deal under Gutierrez, Hontiveros said the court’s decision is not a vindication of the former ombudsman but “a validation that the fight against corruption is far from over.”

“The decision doesn’t absolve those who pushed this lopsided deal. It only proves that the fight against corruption doesn’t stop with the removal of an inept ombudsman. Wala na nga si Merci ngunit ang mga bahid at patibong na iniwan niya ay nananatili. Katulad niya, wawalisin namin ang mga balakid na ito,” Hontiveros said.

Legal action vs. Sandiganbayan justices

Akbayan said it is contemplating the filing of legal cases against the Sandigan justices involved in the said decision. The group said those who made the decision were guilty of issuing an unjust interlocutory order.

In a 22-page resolution written by Associate Justice Teresita V. Diaz-Baldos, the Sandiganbayan through its 2nd Division ruled that Garcia complied with all the conditions required in the plea bargain arrangement.

Under the plea bargain deal, Garcia, who faces plunder charges will hand back P135 million to the government and plead guilty to the lesser offense of direct bribery.

Last February, former Ombudsman Gutierrez filed a manifestation to hold in abeyance the approval of the Garcia plea bargain deal before the Sandiganbayan. The manifestation was made based on the recommendation of Senator Franklin Drilon who is part of the committee investigating the string of corruption cases involving Garcia and some of the top brass of the Armed forces of the Philippines.

Here is President Aquino’s reaction to Sandiganbayan decision on Garcia plea bargain