Escaping Life Sentence Through Plea Bargaining

I am not a lawyer so I cannot easily understand that despite the findings and recommendations of both Congress and the Senate committees, the Second Division of Sandiganbayan (Philippine anti-graft court) still approved the plea bargain between former military comptroller Gen. Carlos Garcia and government prosecutors over his P303-million plunder case. Many people are saying that the ruling was a blow to the anti-corruption campaign of President Benigno Aquino III and assailed it as erroneous, disappointing and questionable.

The Sandiganbayan said in its ruling that the evidence against Garcia is weak and would have led to his acquittal on the plunder charge. In its resolution, the anti-graft court said it approved the agreement because Garcia had complied with the conditions of the plea bargain by pleading guilty to the lesser offenses of direct bribery and facilitating money laundering, and by transferring PhP135.4 million of his and his family’s assets to the government.

This is what confuses me regarding the plea bargain between Gen. Garcia and the Ombudsman. According to our Republic Act No. 7080 as amended, an act defining and penalizing the crime of plunder, any public officer who amasses, accumulates or acquires ill-gotten wealth through a combination or series of overt criminal acts in the aggregate amount or total value of at least Fifty million pesos (PhP50M) shall be guilty of the crime of plunder and shall be punished by reclusion perpetua or life sentence.

The amount of PhP135.4M to be returned to the government was ill-gotten by Gen. Garcia or else why would he part with it. PhP135.4M is way below the Php303M that he was initially charged of amassing but over and above the PhP50M threshold for the crime of plunder so why is he to be sentenced to only a maximum of ten (10) years after he pleaded to lesser offenses of direct bribery and facilitating money laundering. Would this not set a dangerous precedent where corrupt public officials would just have to plead guilty of direct bribery and return part of his ill-gotten wealth when caught and charged with the crime of plunder?

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