Former Gov. Grace Padaca has been ordered arrested by the Sandiganbayan antigraft court for alleged corruption and malversation of funds in connection with an agricultural development program that was started during her term as governor of Isabela. The filing of the charges and her prosecution are suspicious because they come before the 2013 midterm elections. Having unseated the then long-running governor Faustino Dy Jr. in 2004, which was unthinkable because Dy’s political clan had entrenched itself firmly in the North for decades, Padaca and her supporters are expected to again make a dent on the old guard next year. The political establishment in Isabela may again be quaking in its boots.
In 2009 Padaca was ordered to vacate her post after losing the recount of the votes from the 2007 elections to Benjamin Dy. She lost in 2010 to Dy, who was reelected along with his running mate, Vice Gov. Rodolfo Albano III. Her electoral losses and her prosecution should show that despite these setbacks, she remains the biggest threat to the political establishment in Isabela, and that it cannot afford to take any chances.
The complaints against Padaca and other provincial officials were filed at the Office of the Ombudsman by former Isabela Rep. Santiago Respicio, who is allied with the Dys. Padaca is accused of favoring a nongovernment organization, the Economic Development for Western Isabela and Northern Luzon Foundation Inc. (EDWINLFI), in the award of a P25-million priority hybrid rice project. The Office of the Ombudsman said Padaca had illegally awarded the contract to manage the supervised credit and seed distribution facility for farmers as it was done without public bidding or any other legitimate procurement procedure.
Padaca has denied the charge, saying the Dys were behind her persecution. She has explained that the agreement with EDWINLFI was “ratified” by the provincial board and that the release of the funds was cleared by the Department of Budget and Management. Moreover, the program was audited by the Commission on Audit. “The lack of a public bidding was not a reason to conclude that there was injury to the government because the procurement law did not apply to the transaction,” she said.
The relevance of the hybrid rice loan program can be gauged by its success. It has helped make 10 Isabela towns the biggest rice producers in Cagayan Valley, said Alicia Mayor Cecilia Claire Reyes, a former provincial board member. The loans released to farmers of the towns of Roxas, Gamu, Naguilian, Burgos, San Mariano, Benito Soliven, Mallig, Aurora, Quezon and San Manuel have helped increase their rice earnings. By and large, according to government records, the funds have been used to improve rice production in 35 towns.
According to the Kaya Natin! Movement for Good Governance and Ethical Leadership, the criminal case brought against the former Isabela governor is intended by her enemies to keep her out of politics in the province. It “is another case of injustice in our country where the corrupt use all their power and influence to ensure that effective, ethical and empowering leaders are discouraged from practicing good governance and becoming more proactive in helping uplift the lives of every Filipino,” Kaya Natin said in a statement.
Among the signatories to the statement are Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo, former Pampanga Gov. Ed Panlilio, presidential adviser Nereus Acosta and lawmakers Jorge Banal, Teddy Baguilat and Kaka Bag-ao. It should be noted that both Robredo and Padaca are recipients of the Ramon Magsaysay Award for government leadership. Along with Panlilio, they founded Kaya Natin to promote transparency and clean and responsible government.
The political persecution of Padaca illustrates the powerful resistance of politically entrenched families representing old politics to the popular movement for reforms and transparency in government. That resistance was evident from the moment Padaca decided to challenge the political bosses in Isabela: She had to battle electoral protests lodged by the Dys before she could be proclaimed by the Commission on Elections. She may have become the poster girl of new politics when she won in 2004, but she continues to be hobbled by a sustained and well-funded campaign by an old order characterized by corruption and cronyism. The elevation of the cases against her to the Sandiganbayan and her arrest order are a setback to new politics.