The Sandiganbayan has ruled out immunity as a defense for Commission on Elections Commissioner Maria Gracia Cielo Padaca who is facing graft and malversation charges before the anti-graft court.
The Sandiganbayan’s Third Division noted in its seven-page resolution that Padaca’s appointment to her Comelec post by President Benigno Aquino 3rd does not shield her from criminal prosecution since the offenses that she is charged with were committed while she was holding a different and elective position in the government.
Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales filed graft and malversation cases against Padaca in July 2011 for allegedly illegally releasing P25 million public funds to Economic Development for Western Isabela and Northern Luzon Foundation Inc. during Padaca’s tenure as Isabela governor back in 2006.
“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,” the Sandiganbayan declared in a resolution penned by Associate Justice Jose Hernandez and concurred in by Associate Justices Samuel Martires and Maria Cristina Cornejo.
Padaca, a polio survivor who walks with crutches, was appointed by Aquino as one of the poll body’s commissioners in October 2012 despite the criminal charges leveled against her. Moreover, President Aquino also paid Padaca’s bail pegged at P70,000.
By junking Padaca’s immunity plea, the Sandiganbayan upheld its previous October 13, 2013 ruling that she cannot invoke immunity also because she has continually failed to secure confirmation as a Comelec commissioner from the Commission on Appointments.
Further, the Sandiganbayan noted that under the principle of separation of powers between the executive and the judiciary, a presidential appointment is not enough to render ineffective the court’s jurisdiction over a defendant.
Padaca’s camp has previously argued that the charges against her should be dismissed, if not suspended, since a Comelec commissioner can only be removed by impeachment and is therefore immune from suit.
A guilty verdict for graft and malversation raps would mean Padaca’s removal from her Comelec post.