The Office of the Ombudsman is pressing for the prosecution of Commission on Elections (Comelec) Commissioner Ma. Gracia Cielo Padaca for alleged graft and malversation when she was Isabela governor, and is opposing Padaca’s motion invoking her immunity from suit.
In an Oct. 30 motion to dismiss, Padaca claimed that her appointment to the Comelec automatically entitled her to protection under Section 2, Article XI of the Constitution which allows her removal from office only by impeachment, an exclusive power delegated to Congress.
But state prosecutor Omar Sagadal and graft investigation officer Beda Epres said that Padaca’s appointment did not absolve her of criminal liability for offenses she allegedly committed when she was still provincial governor of Isabela in 2006.
“Protection of tenure of office is not a license to commit a crime or a forgiveness for crimes committed before taking office. The prosecution submits that to dismiss or suspend the case would give premium to criminality and undermine the criminal justice system,” they pointed out.
Padaca’s argument of immunity would make appointment to an impeachable post a shield or an amnesty for past crimes, they said.
They also pointed out that Padaca’s appointment to the Comelec has yet to be confirmed by the Commission on Appointments since it was made ad interim (while Congress was in recess).
Therefore, it is premature for Padaca to invoke any form of immunity, “assuming the immunity is proper in the first place,” they said.
The prosecutors also pointed out that Padaca’s appointment will be deemed terminated if not approved before the congressional session is adjourned, they said.
In a previous motion, Padaca asked the anti-graft court’s 5th Division to defer the case until the Supreme Court has rendered a decision on her pending motion for certiorari which challenged the charges filed against her by the Ombudsman.
The Ombudsman earlier denied Padaca’s motion for reconsideration and upheld the finding of probable cause to indict her. The Sandiganbayan then issued a warrant for her arrest in May.
On Oct. 4, Padaca surrendered and posted consolidated bail of P30,000 for the graft charge and P40,000 for the malversation charge, thus setting aside the arrest warrant and prompting the anti-graft court to set her arraignment for Oct. 18.
It later came out that the bail money had come from President Aquino himself.
No public bidding
A 2008 Ramon Magsaysay awardee, Padaca was charged with graft for awarding to a nongovernment organization in 2006 a contract to manage a P25-million credit facility for rice farmers without a public bidding.
Named as coaccused were provincial legal officer Johnas Lamonera, former Roxas Vice Mayor Servando Soriano and private respondent Dionisio Pine, manager of the foundation.
In her defense, Padaca said a bidding was not required for the project and that the government did not suffer any damage from the deal.
Padaca said she was not at all bothered by the charges and expressed confidence that she would be vindicated.
In her motion, she said it was well established that the principle of judicial courtesy entails the suspension by a court of proceedings before it “where there is a strong probability that the issues before the higher court would be rendered moot and moribund as a result of the continuation of the proceedings in the lower court of origin.”