Honest official convicted by honest judge
An oxymoronic title, this column appears to have. But that is the situation in People v. Padaca (Nov. 15, 2019). Let me explain.
Grace Padaca earned a reputation for grit, hard work and honesty as the governor of Isabela from 2004 to 2010 and as a former “well-respected broadcast journalist.” Consequently, she was hailed as “A Symbol of People Power” and auspiciously conferred the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Public Service in 2008.
Yet, after trial and due process, the Sandiganbayan (SBN) convicted her of “malversation of public funds” and of a “violation of Section 3 (e) of R.A. No. 3019” (the Anti-Graft Law) in a 57-page decision penned by Presiding Justice Amparo M. Cabotaje-Tang, who herself has a solid reputation for “proven competence, integrity, probity and independence.” Notably, she was joined unanimously by Justices Bernelito R. Fernandez and Ronald B. Moreno, who are no pushovers either.
During her incumbency, Padaca signed a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) on Jan. 8, 2006, authorizing the Economic Development for Western Isabela and Northern Luzon Foundation Inc. “to oversee and implement one aspect of (the) province’s Provincial Rice Program, i.e. a Supervised Credit Facility” for farmers.
Pursuant to this MOA, she authorized the release of P25 million to the Foundation to be lent to the farmers. However, upon being held to account later on, the Foundation was able to return to the province only P7 million, leaving an unaccounted balance of P18 million.
The SBN convicted her of malversation for permitting the Foundation “through abandonment or negligence” to take or to misappropriate the P18 million, given that:
She had no authority to sign the MOA at the date it was executed on Jan. 8, 2006. True, 23 days later, on Jan. 31, 2006, the Provincial Board (PB) passed a resolution authorizing her to enter into an MOA (without referring to the signed one) with a “non-government organization”, provided the MOA is submitted to the PB for “review and ratification.” And true also, a year later, on Jan. 31, 2007, the PB ratified the signed MOA.
Note, however, that she had no authority to execute the MOA at the date it was signed. Moreover, she did not submit the MOA to the PB for “review and ratification.”
Thus, when the P25 million was released to the Foundation on Feb. 23, 2006, malversation was already consummated. The ratification on Jan. 31, 2007, did not erase the crime because, under Art. 89 of the Revised Penal Code, ratification is “not among the grounds for the extinguishment of criminal liability.”
Padaca also failed to require a “scheme of repayment” for the released sum and did not verify properly the financial and legal capability of the Foundation to perform its obligations.
The accused was likewise convicted of violating the Anti-Graft Law for causing “undue injury to the Province of Isabela.” While the “injury” represented by the unaccounted P18 million was already used to convict Padaca of malversation under the Penal Code, Section 3 (e) of the Anti-Graft Law punishes the causing of “undue injury” separately “[i]n addition to acts or omissions… already penalized by existing law.”
The MOA stated that “the Province has evaluated the technical, financial and managerial competence of the Foundation.” However, “the prosecution has presented evidence showing” that the Foundation has failed to file its “General Information Sheets and Financial Statements for the years 2002-present” and that Padaca improperly relied on the legal opinion of the provincial legal officer, Johnas Lamonera, who was ethically conflicted, he being a “registered incorporator” of the Foundation.
To be clear, Padaca was neither charged with nor convicted of stealing the people’s money. Rather, the SBN found her guilty of allowing others, through her negligence, to malverse public funds and to cause injury to her province.
After the judgment was publicly known, Padaca announced she would file a motion for reconsideration (MR). Thus, I will comment no further on her criminal liability. I will just await her MR and see whether the reputedly honest public servant can convince the equally honest judge (and her colleagues) to change her mind and acquit her on reconsideration.
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