Biased PHL Prosecutor Wendell Barreras-Sulit Suspended - Discharged

Malacañang has suspended Special Prosecutor Wendell Barreras-Sulit for 90 days pending her investigation for administrative liability in approving the plea deal of former military comptroller Carlos Garcia.

Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr. issued the order last Tuesday to prevent Sulit from tampering with records and harassing potential witnesses in the investigation

The order takes effect upon its receipt by Sulit.

It said her prevention was needed “considering the seriousness of the charges, the existence of prima facie case against respondent that she is probably guilty thereof which warrants her removal from the service…”

The Palace said it has jurisdiction over Sulit and her deputies since they are all presidential appointees and are not impeachable officials like the ombudsman.

In a statement, Malacañang said Sulit violated existing rules and jurisprudence when she entered into the plea bargaining deal with Garcia.

Sulit and her deputies were alleged to have deliberately impaired the case for the prosecution by ignoring and abandoning evidence favorable to the interest of the government and presenting evidence adverse to its cause.

Sulit was also accused of failing to discharge her duty of prosecuting erring public officials with utmost responsibility, integrity and professional competence.

Malacañang said Sulit caused undue injury to the government by giving unwarranted benefits to Garcia through “manifest partiality, evident bad faith and gross inexcusable negligence.”

Sulit was given 10 days within which to submit her answer to the formal administrative charge before the Office of the Deputy Executive Secretary for Legal Affairs.

Sulit approved the plea bargaining agreement allowing Garcia to return only P135 million of the P300 million he allegedly plundered.

The deal enabled Garcia to plead guilty to lesser charges.

The Sandiganbayan second division, headed by retiring presiding Justice Edilberto Sandoval, recently approved the deal after Garcia complied with all the conditions required in the plea bargain agreement.

The administrative case against Sulit was an offshoot of an investigation conducted by the House of Representatives committee on justice into the deal.

The House panel recommended that Sulit be dismissed from service for culpable violation of the Constitution and betrayal of public trust.

Order vs Sulit implemented

Acting Ombudsman Orlando Casimiro implemented yesterday the 90-day suspension order against Sulit.

Sulit, whose rank is equivalent to deputy ombudsman, refused to issue a statement to the media or grant interviews.

However the preventive suspension order is not a punishment and that if cleared she will be reinstated with her back salaries paid.

Malacañang’s latest action against the Office of the Ombudsman has left only three ranking officials in the anti-graft agency.

They are Casimiro, Deputy Ombudsman for Visayas Pelagio Apostol, and Deputy Ombudsman for Mindanao Humphrey Monteroso.

Casimiro, the overall deputy ombudsman, became acting ombudsman after Merceditas Gutierrez resigned last month and acting Deputy Ombudsman for Luzon Mark Jalandoni resigned last April.

Casimiro also became acting deputy ombudsman for military and other law enforcement offices after Malacañang dismissed Emilio Gonzalez III for alleged neglect of duty.

The Office of the Ombudsman has yet to announce if Casimiro will take over the functions of Sulit.

Long overdue – Blue Ribbon

The suspension of Sulit is long overdue, according to Senate Blue Ribbon committee chairman Teofisto Guingona III and other senators allied with the administration.

Guingona said Malacañang’s order is in consonance with the recommendation of the Blue Ribbon committee.

“It means (my report) is being recognized by the executive and complied with,” he said.

Senators Francis Escudero and Francis Pangilinan also lauded the Palace decision.

“I agree with and support that move,” Escudero said. “It should have been done a long time ago.”

However, Pangilinan said suspension is not enough, and Sulit must be dismissed from the service.

“We support the disciplinary measures imposed on the special prosecutor,” he said. “Malacañang should work swiftly as well to have her dismissed from service.”

Pangilinan said Sulit and the Sandiganbayan justices involved in the approval of the deal should also be made to account for their actions.

“It is a terrible sight for the cause of justice to see the special prosecutor acting like lead counsels for the defense,” he said.

Guingona said the Blue Ribbon committee believes that the plea bargaining agreement with Garcia is void.

“As the plea bargaining agreement is void, all the consequent acts of the plea bargaining agreement should be vacated and nullified - which include subsequent arraignment and bail,” he said.

“The Office of the Special Prosecutor initially claimed that the evidence is weak, but later on, they assert that evidence is strong,” he said.

Guingona said based on the Sandiganbayan’s internal rules, a plea bargaining agreement should require restitution.

“It is worthy to note that in the plea bargaining agreement of the Office of the Ombudsman with Charlie ‘Atong’ Ang, there was full restitution,” he said.

“In the case of Maj. Gen. Carlos Garcia, he was allowed to pocket P165 million in pabaon (send-off gift).”

Guingona said the offended party was not consulted as required by the Rules of Court.

The immediate and direct offended party is the Armed Forces of the Philippines, he added.

The ultimate offended party is the Filipino people, Guingona said.

Guingona said the Sandiganbayan’s decision to uphold the propriety of the plea bargaining agreement does not change the Blue Ribbon committee’s findings.

“There is still room for the justices to correct themselves to ensure that they are not instrumental to the coddling of officials who betray the public’s trust,” he said.

House of Representatives committee  welcomes decision

Members of the House of Representatives committee on justice welcomed yesterday Malacañang’s decision suspending Sulit.

“We thank the Palace for acting on the complaint by the members of the justice committee,” Deputy Speaker Erin Tañada said.

“It is time to hold Prosecutor Sulit accountable for entering into a plea bargain agreement with General Garcia. The hearings of the committee on justice show that the special prosecutors did not do their homework and exposed how lazy their office is in trying to look for additional evidence to pin down the people they are prosecuting. This is the reason why the former ombudsman had a low conviction rate and a high rate of plea bargains,” he said.

Iloilo Rep. Niel Tupas Jr., committee chairman, said Sulit’s preventive suspension is necessary to prevent her from tampering with documents related to the Garcia case.

“We hope that the Office of the President decides on the main case of removing Prosecutor Sulit for gross negligence and betrayal of public trust soonest so as to give way to a new leadership at the Office of the Special Prosecutor,” he said.

Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares said the cleanup of the Office of the Ombudsman must be “thorough and swift.”

“The new ombudsman cannot work with a special prosecutor like Sulit,” he said.

Military OK for Sulit Suspension

The military also welcomed yesterday the suspension of Sulit.

Armed Forces spokesman Commodore Miguel Rodriguez said it proves that the administration is bent in addressing corruption.

“I think they are serious in combating corruption,” he said. “We are making good the (promise of) daang matuwid (straight path). This is an indication that the administration means business.”

Rodriguez said the AFP is closely watching the developments of the Garcia plunder case

“We welcome this as a positive development but we are still monitoring the case,” he said.

Rodriguez said the military is stepping up measures to improve its systems.

“We are continuously implementing changes necessary to make our armed forces more efficient and effective

 

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