THE stiffest punishment that can be meted out to Maj. Gen. Carlos F. Garcia if he is convicted of conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman is a dishonorable discharge, the Judge Advocate General Office said on Wednesday.
Court-martial proceedings have started against Garcia, who is accused of amassing millions of pesos through illegal means during his three-year stint as Armed Forces comptroller.
Lt. Col. Al Perreras, the executive officer of the Judge Advocate General Office, said Article of War 96 (Conduct Unbecoming an Officer and a Gentleman), with which Garcia is charged, carries a maximum penalty of dishonorable discharge, or separation from the service.
The military, however, will have to speed up the proceedings if it wants justice served in Garcia’s case. The general retires in less than a month, yet the general court-martial that will try him has yet to be convened.
Perreras, also JAGO military justice division chief, said that if Garcia is found guilty, all his retirement benefits would be revoked. He maintained that even after Garcia retires, the military court would still have jurisdiction over his case.
“Under the Abadilla doctrine, once military jurisdiction is attached, it cannot be lost,” Perreras said. Garcia is also facing graft charges before the Office of the Ombudsman.
JAGO will formally hand Garcia his charge sheet today at his quarters at 22 Gallego Street in Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City. He will be given 10 days to submit a counteraffidavit.
“Thereafter we will evaluate the evidence and we will try the case of General Garcia,” Perreras said. At the earliest, the court-martial could be convened in the middle of November.
Garcia allegedly violated Article of War 96 when he failed to include several millions in bank accounts and several properties here and in the United States in his Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth. He also failed to indicate he is a green-card holder.
The military has denied it defied President Arroyo’s order to start the court-martial before the AFP chief of staff, Gen. Narciso Abaya, retires tomorrow. The proceedings, officials said, began when Garcia was investigated by the AFP’s Office of Ethical Standards and Public Accountability.
Perreras said the three stages of court-martial are investigation, pretrial investigation and the trial proper. Garcia’s court-martial is in the second stage, he said.
Abaya warned of the possible consequence of rushing the convening of the court-martial.
“You cannot shortcut that, because what if he brings his case to the Supreme Court and the Court finds out that there’s a miscarriage of justice because we shortcut the whole proceedings? That could be a sad, sad story,” Abaya said in an interview Wednesday during his farewell visit to the Philippine Navy headquarters on Roxas Boulevard, Manila.
Perreras said that even when the court-martial convenes, Garcia’s camp could delay the proceedings either by invoking the peremptory challenge or by filing a motion before the Supreme Court.
Both tactics were effectively used by the Magdaló, a group of junior officers and enlisted men undergoing court-martial for taking part in a mutiny last year.
During the trial, Garcia will be provided with a military defense counsel of his choice. He is also entitled to a civilian counsel should he ask for one.
Garcia is the highest-ranking military officer to undergo court-martial proceedings in contemporary times.
Secretary Carolina Hernandez, the President’s adviser on the implementation of the Feliciano Commission’s recommendation, said the Armed Forces could only calm the restlessness of the junior officers if it convicts Garcia.
Rampant corruption in the military was among the grievances aired by the Magdaló leaders during their short-lived mutiny last year.
By Karl B. Kaufman