Ex-Isabela Gov. Padaca appointed to ComelecBy TJ Burgonio
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Maria Gracia Cielo “Grace” Padaca, a polio-stricken radio commentator who challenged and toppled a long-running political dynasty in her native Isabela, has been appointed election commissioner, Malacañang announced Tuesday.
The former two-term governor replaces information technology expert Augusto “Gus” Lagman in the Commission on Elections (Comelec).
Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr. transmitted the appointment of the 49-year-old Padaca on Friday to the Comelec, according to presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda.
Lagman has failed to get a confirmation from the Commission on Appointments following objections by its chair, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, who has not forgotten a 25-year-old slight.
Enrile has accused Lagman, a former official of the National Citizens’ Movement for Free Elections, of “vote trending” in favor of then President Corazon Aquino’s candidates during the 1987 senatorial race, in which Enrile landed last.
Unlikely political career
As a commentator of Radyo Bombo in Cauayan, Isabela, Padaca had denounced corruption and illegal gambling and logging.
An accountant, she began an unlikely political career when she ran for a congressional seat in 2001 against the influential Dy family in Isabela and lost by 48 votes in the controversial balloting.
The woman crippled since childhood by polio had little money and no political base, but did well in spite of the odds, campaigning in crutches and crisscrossing the province on a borrowed truck.
Thrust into national prominence by the election scandal, she again challenged the Dys in 2004 and this time won as governor. She was reelected three years later.
In 2010, she lost a third term by a slim margin in the country’s first automated elections. The case is under protest.
In 2008, Padaca received the Ramon Magsaysay Award for government service. Trustees of Asia’s version of the Nobel prize cited Padaca for “empowering voters” in Isabela “to reclaim their democratic right to elect leaders of their own choosing and to contribute as full partners in their own development.”
“As governor, she moved quickly to neutralize efforts by Dy loyalists to sabotage her governorship and astutely prioritized her agenda. She paid off two-thirds of the province’s huge debts and restored its fiscal credibility. She abandoned a bankrupt medical scheme for a sounder government-backed plan. And she launched a program to subsidize rice and corn farmers,” the trustees said.
But her political enemies pursued her relentlessly. She has a pending graft case in the Sandiganbayan and a standing warrant for her arrest.
“For four months I’ve had an overnight bag in the car, ready to be arrested anytime. I planned not to voluntarily post bail as my way of protesting the process by which the case was decided upon, and the warrant of arrest issued,” Padaca said in a text message Tuesday.
“Things may have to change now, and I may need to post bail and let the judicial process take its course,” she added.
Padaca has asked the Supreme Court to dismiss the charges, which have no bearing in her appointment to the Comelec, unless she gets a conviction.
The former governor has been accused of allowing the Economic Development for Western Isabela and Northern Luzon Foundation (Edwinlfi), a nongovernment organization (NGO), to take loans for hybrid rice from a P25-million fund in 2006 without public bidding.
Padaca countered that public bidding was not required and the government was not adversely affected when Edwinlfi secured the loans. She claimed politics was behind the arrest warrant.
“A woman commissioner is our biggest asset. Now, there will be someone who will referee us,” Comelec Chairman Sixto Brillantes Jr. said.
The Comelec en banc is currently composed of Brillantes and Election Commissioners Rene Sarmiento, Elias Yusoph, Christian Robert Lim, Lucenito Tagle and Armando Velasco.
Brillantes said the commission may delegate the poll body’s committee on persons with disabilities (PWDs), which is headed at present by Sarmiento, to Padaca.
“It’s a big program since we are registering PWDs [for the 2013 elections]… I think that would be a good committee [that she could head],” he said.
Offhand, Brillantes also said that with Padaca’s appointment and by accepting a government position, “she is considered to have abandoned her protest case.”
The Comelec chair referred to Padaca’s electoral protest against Isabela Gov. Faustino “Bojie” Dy III.
“We are happy with our cofounder’s appointment as Comelec commissioner and we are thankful to President Aquino for the trust and confidence he has given to Governor Padaca,” Harvey Keh, lead convenor of the Kaya Natin! Movement for Good Governance and Ethical Leadership, said in a text message.
The movement believes Padaca would be a “big asset” to the commission “since she had the experience of running for public office four times,” Keh said.
“Her appointment further raises the integrity and credibility of Comelec. We are expecting that she will work toward instituting genuine reforms in our electoral system especially as the 2013 elections draw near,” he said. With a report from Jocelyn R. Uy
Originally posted: 1:57 pm | Tuesday, October 2nd, 2012