The court’s name declares itself as one to which our nation can lean or depend on. The legal basis was to create one of the principal instruments of public accountability. The Sandiganbayan’s recent decision approving the plea bargaining agreement between the Office of the Ombudsman and retired Maj. Gen. Carlos Garcia who was charged with plunder for amassing at least P300 million while he was the Armed Forces comptroller, has revealed how the court thinks. For one, it claims independence and objectivity or, as the President reacted, “I was wondering how the Sandiganbayan could have arrived at such a decision. It’s like they’re living in a vacuum.” Definitely this court’s justices do not think along with the President and his cabinet.
I like the response of Commissioner Heidi Mendoza "That’s just a temporary setback, much has still to happen. That is not yet the end," Mendoza told reporters during the celebration of the COA’s 112th anniversary. Furthermore, as one official with the character of taking the extra step, Mendoza said she would personally help the government in filing for a motion for reconsideration before the Sandiganbayan and prepare additional documents to convince the court to reverse the ruling. Indeed, with public officials like Mendoza we can still look forward to a better Sandiganbayan.
This decision brings along the opportunity to get more public officials deciding along the direction the current government is leading the nation in addressing accountability and justice in relation to graft and corruption in the government. This “set-back” as others have called the court’s decision can serve as a reminder that everything is still in-process. This “still-in-process” perspective is one attitude we learn when we live our lives as a journey with Christ here on earth.
The following days will be made more interesting with the related development of our nation’s story on how we, as Filipinos, deal with a former Comptroller of the Armed Forces of the Philippines accused of plunder and who has entered into a plea bargain recommended by the Ombudsman and approved by the Sandiganbayan. Along the way we know we will need to fix what is broken. Hopefully we all learn our lessons in the choices we make.
Let us end with an attempt to smile and be reminded of the dynamics of our judicial system with the following anecdote of a man who knew the law. An old man charged with stealing chickens was arraigned in court and was incriminating himself when the judge said: "You ought to have a lawyer. Where's your lawyer?" "I got no lawyer, judge," said the old man. "Very well, then," said his honor, "I'll assign a lawyer to defend you." "Oh no, sir; no, sir! Please don't do that!" the man begged. "Why not?" asked the judge. "It won't cost you anything. Why don't you want a lawyer? "Well, judge, I'll tell you, sir," said the old man, waving his old hat confidentially. "It's this way…I want to enjoy them chickens myself.”
And a follow-up with the following joke that can remind us that there are very good legal minds in our country today. Before him appeared a defendant who, hoping for leniency, pleaded, "Judge, I'm down and out." Whereupon said the wise judge: "You're down but you're not out. Six months."*