FIRST we wish to express our faith that Commissioner Grace Padaca is truly a good governance advocate.
She is a co-founder of the Kaya Natin Movement for Good Governance and Ethical Leadership whose aims and advocacy we have supported since its inception.
Unfortunately, the sincere hearts of Kaya Natin lead-convenor and founder Harvey Keh of the Ateneo School of Government and now former governor and recently appointed Comelec Commissioner Grace Padaca have made them commit gaffes owing to their naiveté.
Remember how the senator justices at the Corona impeachment trial excoriated Harvey Keh? He brought a large envelope containing documents that had been delivered to him anonymously to the office of Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile. The anonymous source had made Harvey know that the documents were supposed to be damaging to the then Chief Justice. Like a child—really like an innocent and guileless child ignorant of the law and oblivious to the possibility of clever political manipulators using him to influence the progress of the trial—Harvey gave the envelop to the Senate President’s office.
We believe that Harvey, naively, ignorantly and with all the good intentions in the world, did what he did without realizing the legal significance of his action and the possible harm it would have done Senate President Enrile, the impeachment court and the trial.
Ms. Padaca was among the few who leapt to Harvey’s defense when he was virtually portrayed as an evil force by the senator judges and the media.
Naiveté is a non-virtue in politics
Like her co-founder of Kaya Natin, Commissioner Padaca must realize that naiveté is only a childlike virtue among those who want to take to heart the Lord Jesus’ admonition to His disciples. Jesus said to them that only those who are like innocent children could go to Heaven. He also said, however, at another juncture, telling the disciples how hard they should work to promote the Kingdom of God among men, to be “as cunning as the serpent and as innocent as doves.”
As governor of Isabela Ms. Padaca was as much an icon of effective and ethical governance as the late Jesse Robredo. She became governor against all odds, defeating the dynastic clans who had ruled Isabela for decades. One of her projects, however, was used to accuse her of malversation. Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales found her liable for graft and malversation and sued her at the Sandiganbayan.
President Benigno Aquino and the Kaya Natin Movement members agree with Ms. Padaca that the case is politically motivated.
Former governor Padaca’s case
Ms. Padaca and some officers of the non-government organization Economic Development for Western Isabela and Northern Luzon Foundation Inc. (Edwinlfi) are accused of malversation and graft. The Ombudsman alleges that then governor Padaca allowed Edwinfli to take out loans for hybrid rice from a P25-million fund in 2006 without public bidding. The project allowed Isabela farmers to have big harvests. It was a successful major anti-poverty activity.
Ms. Padaca has petitioned the Supreme Court to nullify the Ombudsman’s moves. She explains that public bidding was not required. The provincial board approved the project. And the government did not suffer any loss. Besides, she did not have anything to do with handling the money. And it did not give Edwinfli any unwarranted benefits.
Her petition tells the High Court that “At all times, (Padaca) acted within the bounds of her authority and in good faith … the execution of the MOA is born out of (her) honest belief that she had the authorization and support of the (Sangguniang Panlalawigan) and that she was pursuing a program that will uplift the quality of life of Isabela’s farmers.”
The petition also claims that “not all the elements” of the felony called “malversation of public funds” are present in the case: she “had no custody of the subject public funds and she is not the accountable officer for it. There is no showing that (Padaca) derived any benefit from the loan proceeds for the provincial rice program…[and][T]here is no showing that (Padaca) negligently caused or consented to any appropriation, taking or misappropriation of public funds.”
Rule of law flouted
Nevertheless, she does have a Sandiganbayan case. And there was an unexecuted warrant of arrest—until President Aquino gave her the money to post a P70,000 bail. People, like partisans of ill and detained former president Gloria M. Arroyo and members of the UNA party fighting the Liberal Party Senate slate, are saying that something is legally and morally wrong with the President’s appointment of her as an elections Commissioner. They also criticize the special treatment accorded her when she paid bail—escorted to post bail at the Sandiganbayan by DILG Secretary Mar Roxas and their party allowed to park at the exclusive Sandiganbayan basement.
Commisioner Padaca had been sworn in, was already a Comelec official, when the President gave her money for her bail and when a Cabinet member who is the on-leave president of the Liberal Party escorted her to the Sandiganbayan. Again, some ethical and legal violation was committed.
Can she be expected to really be the impartial election official whenever the President’s and Secretary Roxas’ Liberal Party and its allies are accused of wrongdoing in the 2013 election?
Something must be done to erase the flouting of the rule of law that this violation represents. Even if the President himself, and Commissioner Padaca, are believed by all to be persons of the highest integrity, they must not be seen as violators of the rule of law.