Justice delayed | Inquirer Opinion
Editorial

Justice delayed

/ 03:07 AM September 19, 2011

Nearly six years after he was convicted by a court martial for violation of the Articles of War, retired military comptroller Carlos F. Garcia has been finally arrested and made to start serving his two-year sentence. Signed on Dec. 2, 2005, the conviction was not confirmed by then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and thus it languished in the stuffy vaults of the bureaucracy until it was signed early this month by President Aquino.

“You cannot implement any decision of the court martial without the confirmation of the President as commander in chief. Former President Arroyo did not act on the recommendation,” said presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda.

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This nearly six-year saga of the court martial should indicate that military justice works only if the commander in chief, the final civilian authority, has the political will to enforce the system of reward and punishment, and to foster professional soldiership.

It must be remembered that the court martial only came after criticisms that the high command of the Armed Forces of the Philippines in 2004 had been foot-dragging on Garcia, who had been charged in the Ombudsman for amassing wealth and making a misdeclaration of his assets and liabilities. No less than Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile, a former defense minister, had pointed out that the AFP high command considered Garcia a “hot potato” and would not want to court-martial him. He had in fact expressed surprise that the AFP had signed a memorandum of agreement with the Ombudsman and Commission on Audit, leaving to the Ombudsman the prosecution of graft cases against the military. Enrile called this “passing the buck” and pointed out that a mere MOA could not supersede a law like the Articles of War. Because of public pressure, the AFP charged Garcia with conduct unbecoming an officer and defrauding the government, under the Articles of War.

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The court martial was composed of comparatively junior officers. While Garcia was a major general and a member of PMA Class 1971, the court martial was headed by Maj. Gen. Emmanuel Teodosio, commander of the Philippine Marines at that time and a member of PMA Class ’72. They started their work around October 2004 and apparently did it with dispatch since, as has been revealed now by Malacañang and the AFP, they made their promulgation a little more than a year later. This should indicate that the court martial as a system of justice proceeds with swiftness and relative efficiency. But the relatively light sentence was not implemented because Arroyo didn’t confirm the  conviction. The delay in Garcia’s sentencing was a blow against justice. President Aquino’s gesture of confirming the court martial’s decision is a welcome corrective though a belated attempt to restore justice.

Looking back now, was Garcia treated with kid gloves? If he had been court-martialed earlier, the maximum penalty meted out would have been dishonorable dismissal from the service. Since he had been set to retire in November 2004, the delay ensured a sentence after retirement and, therefore, an honorable retirement with his pension and other retirement benefits intact.

Garcia’s court martial reveals that the old-boy network in the military exists, that “mistahs” form themselves into a fellowship which may be good for morale and support in the arena of war and hostilities, but which also functions as a cabal of mutual protection against systems of transparency and justice. The Garcia issue should reaffirm the wisdom of the recommendations of the Davide Commission (which investigated the 1989 coup attempt) and the Melo Commission (which investigated the 2004 coup attempt) that the military justice system be applied forcefully and firmly on erring officers and soldiers.

Taken in the context of the strict requirements of the Davide and Melo Commissions, not only Garcia has been treated with kid gloves, but also Sen. Antonio Trillanes and nearly all the officers and soldiers who took part in the coup attempts against Arroyo and, before her, Cory Aquino.

But as the nation has been learning all along, to ignore the recommendations of the coup commissions to firmly deal with erring officers and soldiers could have fatal consequences. And since the same forcefulness and firmness should apply in the civilian justice system, the plea bargain between Garcia and the Ombudsman should be dashed. The compromise agreement between resigned ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez and Garcia with the Sandiganbayan is simply that, a compromise—a compromise of justice. And justice compromised is justice renounced.

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TAGS: AFP, Articles of War, Carlos Garcia, crime, Government, justice, law, Military
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