A day after the Sandiganbayan ordered former Isabela governor Grace Padaca to be arrested, she appeared before the anti-graft court and pleaded not guilty, but not without receiving chiding remarks from the magistrates.
The incumbent commissioner of the Commission on Elections entered her “not guilty” plea before the Sandiganbayan Third Division a day after the court issued a warrant of arrest against her.
Padaca was supposed to appear on Thursday last week but did not, prompting the division to forfeit her P70,000 bail bond and release another warrant of arrest on Monday.
On Tuesday’s court proceeding, Padaca once again entered her “not guilty” plea before the Third Division for the alleged improper award of a P25-million contract rice program to a non-government organization.
Padaca was previously conditionally arraigned before the Fifth Division prior to her flight to Dubai for an overseas absentee voting seminar prior May 2013 elections.
Her case was reshuffled to the Third Division when former Third Division chairperson Associate Justice Jose Hernandez inhibited in the Silvestre de Leon case.
The de Leon case was brought to the Fifth while Padaca’s graft and malversation cases were moved to the Third.
Before the arraignment proper, the magistrates grilled Padaca’s lawyer for not allowing their client to appear last October 17.
“You did not even ask the court or made a manifestation to inquire as to why the Third Division scheduled the accused’ arraignment. You just appeared without her,” Presiding Justice Amparo Cabotaje-Tang said.
Defense lawyer George Aquino said that since he and other defense counsels saw in Padaca’s case record that she was already arraigned at the Fifth Division, they advised the poll commissioner to not attend.
“This is not the Fifth Division. Whatever the Fifth Division did does not bond the Third Division,” Associate Justice Samuel Martires snapped back.
Defense lawyer Rogelio Vinluan said that it was the defense counsels’ advice for Padaca to not appear. He added that it was an “honest mistake done in good faith” on the counsels’ side.
“It is not an ordinary honest mistake,” Associate Justice Alex Quiroz said. “You should have at least made a courtesy to manifest your position and not necessarily preempt the proceeding because the point here is we scheduled the arraignment.”
The defense lawyers from Angara Abello Concepcion Regala & Cruz (Accra) Law Offices admitted before the court that Padaca wanted to be in Sandiganbayan but it was them who prevented her.
“Very well, let that good faith be translated to a new bail bond,” Martires said in open court.
Tang denied the defense’ motion to lift warrant of arrest. She also forfeited the P70,000 bail bond Padaca earlier posted.
To remedy the instant bench order and prevent Padaca from landing in jail, the defense camp realigned the P70,000 from the P140,000 travel bond that Padaca posted before she left for Dubai to serve as her new bail.
After the prosecution posted no objection to such realignment, Tang ordered the arrest order issued on Monday lifted.
Martires reminded the defense that since the Supreme Court did not hand any temporary restraining order on the case, trial shall proceed.
Outside the courtroom, Aquino again told the media that Padaca should not be faulted because it was the lawyers who advised her not to go.
“Sa akin naman, kung kailangan akong pumunta at pinatatawag ako ng korte, susunod ako. So now I am here and I submitted myself to be arraigned,” Padaca said. JOHN CONSTANTINE G. CORDON