I was late in turning on the tv set to watch the day’s inquiry into the AFP corruption by the Senate and was only able to see the part where Senator Jinggoy was interviewing former Ombudsman Marcelo followed by subsequent questions and interviews of others actively involved in the corruption case. In his usual brusque manner it appeared that he was badgering rather than interviewing the former Ombudsman. It appeared as if Senator Jinggoy’s questioning were all leading towards making Marcelo admit to have mishandled the initial filing of the case which now has been turned over to Merceditas Gutierrez, the new ombudsman. It has now turned into controversy because the weakness of the case (as claimed by the prosecutors) resulted into the unfortunate plea bargain of Gen. Garcia as recommended by the current Ombudsman and her prosecution team.
The plea bargain entered into by the defendant altered the charge from plunder into indirect bribery. By pleading guilty to the lesser crime of bribery and the restitution of a portion of the alleged loot the defendant is bound to be meted an easy penalty and cannot be arraigned further for plunder because of the legal principle of double jeopardy. The general gives back about 130 million pesos and gets to keep the balance of 700 million pesos plundered loot. Who says crime does not pay?
Former ombudsman Marcelo was adept at answering the questions, thereby, parrying whatever insinuations of inefficiency and negligence the questions wanted to prove. There was a tense moment when Marcelo cited the case of Erap’s plunder case as an example of the legal procedures followed. Visibly irked by the reference to his father’s case, Jinggoy remarked that they cannot refer to the Erap plunder case since his father has already been cleared. Marcelo stood his ground and with emphasis said that Erap was convicted in the plunder case against him. The presidential pardon given by Gloria Arroyo did not erase the guilt and conviction of Erap. The intervention of the Chairman of the Senate committee eased the tension by putting the questioning at rest with the proviso to return to it once tempers have abated. Senator Jinggoy continued his interview but it was with less intensity and in a while was dissipated by discussions of other issues.
It was Manong Johnny Enrile’s turn to question and he confronted the Special Prosecutor Wendell Sulit with the apparent slowness of her group to act on a much earlier request by the senators to withdraw the plea bargain since the Sandigan has not approved it yet. Together with Sen. Franklin Drilon, Manong Johnny could not emphasize enough the seriousness of the issue and made a plea to Ms. Sulit to stop dragging their feet on the matter. It was already three weeks since the plea was made. Pressured for a commitment by a visibly irritated Senate panel the Special Prosecutor could not hedge any further said that it will be done in a week’s time.
Sen. Enrile then proceeded to question the prosecutors Balmeo and Capistrano on why the prosecution did not object to the Sandigan court’s allowing the plea bargain to prosper and the ensuing granting of bail. Manong Johnny chided the prosecution by accusing them to what was tantamount to stupidity by not knowing the consequences of their allowing the Sandigan court to progress the case into something that is prejudicial to the people. He accused the prosecutors of ineptness and of gross negligence which could cause a double jeopardy situation in which case the defendants may be meted a light penalty and would be free to enjoy a substantial portion of the looted money.
A few questions come to mind;
1. Why is Jinggoy so eager to nail the former Ombudsman Marcelo into admitting fault in the filing of a weak case? If he is successful in doing so would this help cleanse the mishandling by the current prosecution team? This will probably throw a monkey wrench into the progress of the inquiry since the prosecution team will be given another opportunity to prove their non-complicity into what seems to be a well concerted scheme to defraud the people of their money entrusted with the AFP. Is Jinggoy after discrediting former ombudsman Marcelo for the role he played during his father’s plunder case? He seems to have the tendency to make use of the investigations as an opportunity to get at their family’s detractors.
2. From the statements coming from the members of the prosecution team they seem to be pointing at the Sandigan Bayan courts (a Judge Sandoval was mentioned) as the villains in this sordid affair and that the prosecution was negligent in protecting the people’s interest by allowing the courts to impose their will in this case (what is their will?). Is the Sandigan court a judicial body that we should be protected from? Manong Johnny implies this when he said that the prosecution was given the run around by the Sandigan; that is why he accuses the prosecution of reneging and of being negligent of their sworn duty.
3. Shouldn’t the Senate subpoena the Sandigan judges who handled the case? There seems to be wrongdoing in that he may have duped the prosecutors into allowing the plea bargain to a situation where an inevitable “laglag” of the case will ensue.
Now the redolence wafts wide, an ill wind that blows no good. The dragging in of the Sandigan Bayan into the controversy will add fuel to the issues against an already beleaguered judiciary and could lead into a crisis that would further erode the peoples’ trust in the justice system.