Much has been said and written about the plunder case and the plea bargaining deal by former AFP Deputy Chief of Staff for Comptrollership, Maj. Gen. Carlos Garcia.
The question now is, who is the proper authority to question Garcia’s pleading to a lesser offense? What are the requirements for a valid and effective plea?
Under Rule 116 of Criminal Procedure: Section 2. Plea of guilty to a lesser offense. — At arraignment, the accused, with the consent of the offended party and the prosecutor, may be allowed by the trial court to plead guilty to a lesser offense which is necessarily included in the offense charged. After arraignment but before trial, the accused may still be allowed to plead guilty to said lesser offense after withdrawing his plea of not guilty. No amendment of the complaint or information is necessary.
It bears stressing that trial has already started in Garcia’s case, with Heidi Mendoza, formerly of COA, as well as other witnesses, testifying for the State.
The Supreme Court in Rodriguez vs. Gadiane, et. al., reiterated its ruling in People vs. Santiago that –
It is well-settled that in criminal cases where the offended party is the State, the interest of the private complainant or the private offended party is limited to the civil liability. Thus, in the prosecution of the offense, the complainant's role is limited to that of a witness for the prosecution. If a criminal case is dismissed by the trial court or if there is an acquittal, an appeal therefrom on the criminal aspect may be undertaken only by the State through the Solicitor General (OSG). Only the Solicitor General may represent the People of the Philippines on appeal.
On the other hand, the Ombudsman Act (RA 6770) provides that the Ombudsman has the power to: Investigate and initiate the proper action for the recovery of ill-gotten and/or unexplained wealth amassed after February 25, 1986 and the prosecution of the parties involved therein. (Section 15, par. 11)
The case is not yet on appeal, as the plea bargaining agreement is still subject to the determination for approval or disapproval by the Sandiganbayan.
In a plea to a lesser offense, it is important to note that consent of the offended party and the approval of the trial court must be obtained. Otherwise, the accused cannot claim double jeopardy should he be charged anew with the graver offense subject of the original complaint or information. (Regalado)
In Garcia’s case, the prosecutor is the Ombudsman and the offended party is the Government, particularly the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).
The AFP has already announced that it did not and will not give its consent to the plea bargaining agreement, a position supported by the OSG. How will the Sandiganbayan rule on the issue? Abangan. (Let's wait and see.)