Commission on Elections Commissioner Grace Padaca cannot invoke immunity from being tried on the graft and malversation charges filed against her until she is confirmed by the Commission on Appointments, according to state prosecutors.
The prosecutors asked the Sandiganbayan’s Fifth Division on Thursday to junk Padaca’s motion to quash the criminal charges by virtue of her new appointment to a constitutional office.
In their motion filed on Feb. 11, Assistant Special Prosecutor Omar Sagadal and Graft Investigation and Prosecution Officer Beda Epres said that Padaca’s seat in the Comelec was only covered by an ad interim appointment which could be terminated by the disapproval by the CA or adjournment of Congress without the CA acting on her appointment.
“Without having been confirmed by the Commission on Appointments, accused cannot claim all the privileges and immunities of a regularly appointed Commissioner. Pending her confirmation, she has no fixed term of office,” they said.
They added that dismissal of the cases against Padaca would be tantamount to undermining the power of Congress to approve or reject an appointment and render useless the constitutional requirement for confirmation.
Padaca, a 2008 Ramon Magsaysay awardee, earlier said she was confident that she would be vindicated in the end and was not at all bothered by the case because the President himself and Roxas believed she was not corrupt as painted by her enemies.
The former Isabela governor was accused of graft and malversation for awarding to a nongovernment organization in 2006 a contract to manage a P25-million credit facility for rice farmers without public bidding.
In her defense, she said bidding was not required for the project and that the government was not disadvantaged by the deal.
Graft investigators said Padaca’s action gave undue advantage to the Economic Development for Western Isabela and Northern Luzon Foundation Inc., a nongovernmental organization, which was chosen and entrusted with public funds even without any public bidding to manage a credit facility for Isabela’s rice farmers under a hybrid seed distribution program.
They pointed out that the transaction was in the nature of a management or consultancy contract even as they noted the absence of any provision for safeguards on the amount entrusted to the NGO.
Prosecutors argued that even if Padaca was reappointed upon termination of her interim appointment, her trial would still proceed because she “is not being removed from her position; she is only being made to account for crimes committed in another office.”
They said they would not insist that Padaca be removed if convicted in either or both charges, but only made to serve whatever punishment would be given to her after her term in the Comelec was over.
“It might be wise to continue with the prosecution of the cases and if ever the accused is found guilty, to suspend execution of judgment until such time that the accused is no longer holding an impeachable position,” the prosecution said.