Padaca: I'm immune from suit
MANILA, Philippines (2nd UPDATE) - Commission on Elections (Comelec) Commissioner Grace Padaca is seeking the dismissal of the graft and malversation charges against her, saying her appointment to the commission now gives her immunity from suit.
In a motion filed with the Sandiganbayan Wednesday, October 31, Padaca's counsels from the ACCRA law firm sought for the immediate dismissal of the case against her. They are defense lawyers Oliver L. Pantaleon, Stephen George S.D. Aquino, Francesca Lourdes M. Senga and Johanna Aleria P. Lorenzo
They argued that her appointment as Comelec comissioner gives her immunity from court cases, as she may only be removed through impeachment.
In the alternative prayer in her motion, she asked that the proceedings in the graft and malversation case be suspended if the impeachment case pushes through, and until the impeachment trial is terminated.
On Tuesday, Padaca pleaded not guilty in connection with the charges, and was allowed by the Sandiganbayan to travel to the United States to observe the US elections.
The former Isabela governor posted bail on October 4, two days after she was named Comelec commissioner. She was ordered arrested as early as May 2012.
She's a former member of the ruling Liberal Party and a key ally of President Benigno Aquino III. This prompted some politicians to criticize her appointment to the election body. But Padaca gave assurances that she will act indepedently.
A former broadcaster, Padaca won as governor of Isabela in 2004, ending the Dy family's control of the province. She ran for re-election in 2007 and won. In 2010, she however lost to Faustino "Bojie" Dy III. She filed an electoral protest against Dy with the Comelec, which was still pending when she was appointed commissioner. Her Comelec appointment though rendered her electoral protest moot and academic.
Padaca was accused of giving undue advantage -- when she was Isabela governor -- to the Economic Development for Western Isabela and Northern Luzon Foundation Inc. (EDWINLFI), a non-government organization tapped to manage a credit facility for Isabela’s rice farmers under a hybrid seed distribution program.
Prosecutors said the disbursement bypassed the provincial council because there was no ratification of the memorandum of agreement with the foundation.
Named Padaca’s co-accused were provincial legal officer Johnas Lamonera, former Roxas Vice Mayor Servando Soriano and private respondent Dionisio Pine, manager of EDWINLFI.
The defense argued that having been appointed to the Comelec, Padaca is now protected under Section 2, Article XI of the Constitution which only allows her removal from office by impeachment.
They added that Section 3 of Art. XI also gave the House of Representatives the exclusive power to initiate an impeachment process.
“It is humbly submitted that the criminal cases pending against Accused Padaca before this Honorable Court may ultimately result in a violation of the aforementioned Constitutional provisions,” they said.
Graft is punishable by up to 10 years imprisonment while malversation of public funds over P22,000 is penalized by a maximum jail term of 40 years.
RA 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act and Article 217 of the Revised Penal Code (malversation) both include the additional punishment of perpetual disqualification from holding public office.
“Clearly if the cases before this Honorable Courth proceed, and accused Padaca is convicted of one or both of the crimes charged, she will be removed from her position as Commissioner of the Comelec [and disqualified from holding public office] without going through the impeachment process. This will clearly run counter to the Constitution and settled jurisprudence,” her lawyers pointed out.
As an alternative, Padaca sought suspension of both cases “until impeachment proceedings against her have been commenced and terminated.” - Rappler.com