By Alexis Romero (The Philippine Star) Updated September 17, 2011 12:00 AM Comments (97)
MANILA, Philippines - Six years after a guilty verdict for misdeclaring his assets and hiding his status as permanent US resident while still in active service, former military comptroller and accused plunderer Carlos Garcia was arrested yesterday at his home in Quezon City to begin a two-year prison term at the New Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa.
His arrest came after President Aquino approved a guilty verdict on Garcia by a court-martial in December 2005. The case against Garcia in the military court is distinct from the plunder case he, his wife Clarita and three sons are facing before the Sandiganbayan.
Malacañang defended his arrest, saying it was long overdue and should have been ordered by former President and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
The court-martial ruled that Garcia violated Articles of War 96, or conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman; and 97, or conduct prejudicial to good order and military discipline when he misstated the value of his assets in 2002 and 2003 and withheld information on his status as permanent US resident while in active duty.
Garcia retired in November 2004. The court-martial also ordered Garcia dishonorably discharged from the service and his benefits forfeited.
A court-martial ruling can be carried out only after approval by the President. Armed Forces chief Gen. Eduardo Oban Jr. said Aquino affirmed Garcia’s sentence last Sept. 9.
“The AFP implemented the sentence imposed by the General Court Martial to dismissed AFP Comptroller Maj. Gen. Carlos Garcia, Friday. The sentence was approved by the reviewing authority, the President of the Republic of the Philippines, Benigno Aquino III,” AFP spokesman Col. Arnulfo Marcelo Burgos said.
Policemen and members of the Armed Forces Provost Marshal General arrested Garcia in his house in Project 6, Quezon City at around 7 a.m. The former general did not resist arrest. He was brought to the detention center of the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (ISAFP) in Camp Aguinaldo at about 9 a.m. He was escorted out of the ISAFP detention center at 2 p.m. for the trip to the NBP.
“The sentence of Maj. Gen. Garcia, which shall be effective this day (Sept. 16) will not be remitted or mitigated by any previous confinement,” Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said.
He said Pampanga Rep. Gloria Arroyo, when she was still president, was shown the court-martial ruling but ignored it.
“The court-martial had a decision (on Garcia’s case) and was forwarded to the President (Arroyo) for confirmation of the sentence. It was never confirmed,” Gazmin said.
“The papers (on the ruling) were shown to President Aquino. It (ruling) has not been served. And this is what we are implementing now because the President has confirmed it,” he added.
Asked if Mrs. Arroyo had sat on the verdict, Gazmin said “we need to investigate thoroughly to determine what really happened.”
Armed Forces Judge Advocate General Brig. Gen. Gilberto Roa said that in court-martial decisions, the President is empowered to credit the period of a convict’s preventive suspension to his prison sentence.
“The President has the discretion to credit his (Garcia) preventive suspension but in this case, the President did not exercise that discretion. So therefore it is not credited. He has to serve the full length of the two years,” he said.
Roa said they expect Garcia’s camp to question his arrest before the courts.
“There is no law preventing him from going to court but we are ready to face it,” he said.
Arrest defended, lauded
At Malacañang, presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said President Aquino only affirmed what the military had ruled.
“The decision of the military court-martial is recommendatory… it becomes effective only upon the confirmation of the President of the Republic as commander-in-chief,” Lacierda said in a press briefing.
“Former president Arroyo did not act on the recommendation or decision of the court-martial. So it will only be implemented now because President Aquino confirmed it. And after the confirmation, the sentence is immediately executed,” he said.
“The decision has not yet lapsed until confirmed so once jurisdiction is acquired, it continues until the case is terminated,” Lacierda said.
He stressed that the court-martial case for which Garcia was to begin his two-year prison sentence was different from the plunder case with the Sandiganbayan in which he was allowed to post bail under a plea bargain agreement
“This is based on the decision of the court-martial, again, insofar as the case in the Sandiganbayan is concerned, that is still being disputed, and as I understand, the new Ombudsman, Justice (Conchita) Carpio-Morales is asking for more time to question the compromise agreement,” Lacierda said.
In the plea bargain deal approved by the Ombudsman and the Sandiganbayan in December last year, Garcia offered to return barely half of the P300 million he allegedly stole in exchange for the downgrading of his plunder case to direct bribery and money laundering. The deal also allowed Garcia to walk out of his detention cell in Camp Crame on Dec. 18 after posting P60,000 bail.
Lawmakers welcomed Garcia’s arrest saying it was a big step forward for the President’s anti-corruption campaign.
AThe higher the official punished, the better!T Ilocos Norte Rep. Rodolfo Fariñas, whose committee investigated the controversial plea bargain agreement, said. He said that by ordering Garcia s arrest, Aquino wanted sto send a clear message of his anti-corruption campaign.t
Ang Kasangga party-list Rep. Teodorico Haresco said the arrest meant that “at last, something concrete happened in the pursuit of accountability for bad people in government.”
“This (arrest) sends a powerful message and somehow inspires Filipinos that there is hope for the country,” Haresco said.
“Maybe we will become a little less cynical and a little more hopeful. This would also help encourage investors turned off by reports of corruption in government, to pursue their plans to put up business in the country,” he said.
Quezon City Rep. Winston Castelo, for his part, praised leaders of the AFP “for their courageous ruling against a high ranking colleague that will serve notice to all men in uniform that no one is above law.
“We hope the new leadership of the Ombudsman will do the same on erring public officials consistent with the personal crusade of PNoy, that is, to curtail corruption and eliminate poverty,” Castelo said.
Eastern Samar Rep. Ben Evardone said the arrest has proven that the Aquino administration is serious in its campaign against graft and corruption.
“I hope that there will be no ‘plea bargain arrangement’ that will set free again General Garcia,” Evardone said.
Bureau of Corrections chief Gaudencio Pangilinan yesterday guaranteed no special treatment for Garcia.
“We are all the same here. Every inmate will be treated equally,” Pangilinan said. “Everybody will be treated equally and fairly.”
He said even his former comrades in the military, including a classmate Maj. Rolando Maclang of Philippine Military Academy class of 1979, don’t get special accommodations at the NBP.
As part of protocol, Garcia will be quarantined for five days at the NBP hospital, during which only his lawyers will be allowed to visit him.
It is also in the hospital where Garcia will undergo physical examination, finger printing, and have his mug shot taken.
After five days, Garcia will be made to stay at the Reception and Diagnostic Center for 55 days, where he will undergo, among others, psychological and psychiatric tests. The RDC will also determine the cell Garcia will occupy.
NBP Superintendent Richard Schwarzkopf said Garcia will be temporarily considered a maximum security prisoner until the RDC completes its evaluation.
Security was tight when Garcia’s four-vehicle convoy arrived at the NBP at past 2 p.m. He was with his lawyers and escorted by more than a dozen soldiers and policemen.
Garcia was generally quiet while on his way to the NBP. “He did not show any emotions, anger, or aggressiveness. He was very calm,” Provo Marshal General Col. Herbert Yambing said. But he said the former general told him of his plan to question his arrest before the courts. He also asked permission to talk to his lawyers and to Pangilinan.
“He wanted to file a petition for bail but the court- martial does not allow bail. That’s the difference,” Yambing said.
The Sandiganbayan Second Division’s approval of the plea bargain sparked public outrage as well as calls for the impeachment of then Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez and of the justices of the anti-graft court. In approving the deal, the Sandiganbayan said evidence against Garcia was weak to convict him of plunder.
The military said that as the aggrieved party, it should have been consulted by the Sandiganbayan and the Ombudsman when Garcia’s plea offer was being evaluated.
Solicitor General Jose Anselmo Cadiz, in a 124-page consolidated motion for reconsideration, said the plea bargain agreement “suffers from fatally grave infirmities.”The immensity of Garcia’s wealth first came to light in 2003 when airport authorities in San Francisco held one of his sons for trying to smuggle $100,000. In a written confession, his wife Clarita justified their son’s possession of such large amount saying her husband had amassed a fortune as military comptroller.
Reposted From Alexis Romero of Philippine Star