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Padaca found guilty of graft: ‘I’m no thief’

Padaca found guilty of graft: ‘I’m no thief’

GRACE UNDER PRESSURE Former Isabela Gov. Grace Padaca faces reporters at the Sandiganbayan on Friday after the court found her guilty of graft and malversation for allegedly misusing P25 million in agricultural funds in 2006. —NIÑO JESUS ORBETA

The Sandiganbayan has found former Isabela governor and Ramon Magsaysay awardee Grace Padaca guilty of graft and malversation in connection with a 2006 case, where she was accused of awarding P25 million in agricultural funds to a nongovernmental organization (NGO) without public bidding and of violating procurement regulations.

An emotional Padaca described the verdict as “totally unexpected.”

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“Hindi ako magnanakaw! (I am not a thief)” she said in reaction to the court decision released on Friday. “I did not gain even one centavo from that P25 million. The entire amount went to a program that benefited farmers. I’ve never abused public funds.”

P18-M fine

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The antigraft court’s Third Division sentenced Padaca to up to 14 years in prison for graft, and up to 10 years for malversation of public funds. She was also ordered to pay an P18-million fine and an additional P18 million to the provincial government of Isabela with a 6-percent interest per annum until the amount has been fully paid.

Padaca, a broadcast journalist who entered politics and went on to earn the prestigious Ramon Magsaysay Award for government service in 2008, was also perpetually disqualified from holding public office.

The court, however, allowed Padaca to double her bail bond of P70,000 for her provisional liberty while she and her lawyer, Rogelio Vinluan, appeal the verdict.

The case stemmed from a complaint filed in the Office of the Ombudsman by former Isabela Rep. Santiago Respicio, a known ally of the Dy political clan in Isabela, whose long grip on power was ended by Padaca’s victory in the 2004 gubernatorial race.

Usurious loans

In a statement on Friday, Padaca maintained that the hybrid seed distribution program cited in the case was established more than 12 years ago, when she was Isabela governor, “so that farmers didn’t have to take out usurious loans with interests of 30 to 40 percent from traders and financiers. Instead, they only pay 1.5 percent for the program’s processing fee.”

She said she had the blessing of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan (provincial board) when she signed a memorandum of agreement (MOA) with the Economic Development for Western Isabela and Northern Luzon Foundation Inc., the NGO tapped to implement the program.

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“I was not the only one who decided to implement this program for the farmers. The vice governor and the provincial board were with me,” Padaca said.

She said bidding was not required for the project and that there was no damage done to the government. The NGO that carried out the program also did not charge the farmers for its service, Padaca added.

She said she had always considered the public’s interest when disbursing government funds, citing her price stabilization program for rice and corn in partnership with the National Food Authority, which in 2007 won a Galing Pook Award for being an outstanding local government project.

But according to the prosecution, Padaca allowed the foundation to act like a middleman in disbursing the money to farmers, and that she failed to liquidate some P3.6 million of the funds.

The court decision penned by Presiding Justice Amparo Cabotaje-Tang belied Padaca’s argument that the MOA was backed by the Sangguniang Panlalawigan.

When Padaca signed the MOA on Jan. 9, 2006, she was not yet authorized to do so by the provincial board, the court said. It was only on Jan. 31 that year that the board issued a resolution authorizing her to enter into an agreement with the foundation, it noted.

‘Grossly deficient’

The decision also said there was “no way to ascertain whether (the foundation) legitimately loaned the said amount to farmer beneficiaries and whether the farmer beneficiaries properly returned the amount of money they received.”

According to the court, “(t)he MOA is grossly deficient in protecting the interest of the Province of Isabela considering the absence of a provision on the repayment of the amount of P25 million which it transferred, upon the authority and consent of accused Padaca, to (the foundation).”

Also charged in the case were then Isabela legal officer Johnas Lamonera, former Municipal Councilor Servando Soriano and Dionisio Pine, both officers of the foundation at the time. They have all passed away.—WITH A REPORT FROM INQUIRER NORTHERN LUZON AND INQUIRER RESEARCH

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