Anti-graft court won't stop proceedings vs Padaca

MANILA, Philippines – The Sandiganbayan junked a second time the appeal of Commission on Elections (Comelec) Commissioner Grace Padaca to stop the proceedings in connection with graft and malversation charges filed against her.

In its 7-page resolution promulgated on March 29 but publicized only on Tuesday, April 15, the Sandiganbayan Third Division junked Padaca's motion for reconsideration to dismiss the charges, saying these had to do with with her former position as governor of Isabela and not as a current election official.

With the ruling, the Sandiganbayan affirmed its October 2013 decision that Padaca cannot invoke immunity from suit as a member of a constitutional body.

The anti-graft court said that the alleged offenses were committed during her incumbency as Isabela governor, prior to her appointment as Comelec commissioner. In addition, Padaca cannot claim security of tenure as an election official, as she has not yet been confirmed by the Commission on Appointments.

The court also ruled that a presidential appointment is not enough to cancel the court's jurisdiction over a defendant.

"It would require an unprecedented stretch and bending of the law to utilize her appointment as a cause to dismiss or suspend the ongoing court proceedings. To sustain the motion of the accused undermines independence and the exercise of judicial authority of the Court on account of an intervening executive act; this violates the fundamental principle of separation of powers," said the Sandiganbayan decision, penned by Associate Justice Jose Hernandez.

Padaca's lawyers argued that her appointment to Comelec in October 2012 means that the charges should be dismissed or suspended until she leaves the poll body. (READ: Padaca defends 'immunity' appeal)

In the event Padaca is convicted of either charge, it would mean her removal from office, her defense lawyers noted. They added that this conflicts with Article XI, Section 2 of the 1987 Constitution, which says that members of constitutional commissions, like Comelec, may only be removed from office by impeachment.

The cases

Padaca is accused of giving undue advantage to the Economic Development for Western Isabela and Northern Luzon Foundation Incorporated (EDWINLFI) in 2006 when the provincial government entrusted it with P25 million (around $490,000 at the time) to manage a credit facility for Isabela's rice farmers.

Prosecutors questioned the failure of defendants to conduct a public bidding when the transaction was in the nature of a management or consultancy contract. They noted the absence of any provision for safeguards on the amount entrusted to the NGO. (READ: Prosecution presses for Padaca's graft case)

In a report issued by the Commission on Audit, government auditors said EDWINLFI failed to liquidate P3.6 million (around $70,000) under "due from NGOs/POs" and another P18 million (around $350,000) under "loans receivables."

Sandiganbayan first ordered Padaca's arrest on May 21, 2012. Prosecutors argued that Padaca has managed to evade arrest since, but she said the police simply never arrested her.

On October 2, 2012, she was appointed as Comelec commissioner by President Benigno Aquino III. Two days later, the outstanding arrest warrant against her was enforced. She surrendered and posted a P70,000 bail, but it was later revealed that President Aquino paid for it.

She pleaded not guilty to both charges on October 30, 2012. – Michael Bueza/