MANILA - The Supreme Court has denied former Isabela Gov. Grace Padaca’s bid to question the Ombudsman’s 2011 decision to charge her with graft and malversation of public funds over the use of P25 million in agricultural funds.
In the same decision, it ordered the Sandiganbayan to proceed with the trial.
Padaca is accused of releasing P25 million in agricultural funds to private foundation Economic Development for Western Isabela and Northern Luzon Foundation (EDWINLF) without the benefit of public bidding, in violation of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.
The amount was part of a P35 million loan from the Development Bank of the Philippines, which was paid using the province’s economic development fund.
To replenish the economic development fund, Padaca is also accused of causing the release of funds from the unreleased approved loans of Isabela’s previous administration, allegedly constituting malversation of public funds.
Padaca questioned the findings of the Ombudsman through a petition for certiorari before the SC, claiming that public bidding was not required and that she did not benefit from the release of the funds.
Her co-petitioners, municipal councilor Servando Soriano and Dionisio Pine, officers of EDWINLF, also questioned the Sandiganbayan’s issuance of warrants of arrests against them.
ANTI-GRAFT COURT TOLD TO PROCEED
In a 12-page decision, the SC said there was no basis to disturb the findings of the Ombudsman and the Sandiganbayan.
The ruling was penned by Associate Justice Andres Reyes, Jr. and concurred in by Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, and Justices Diosdado Peralta and Estela Perlas-Bernabe.
The Court agreed with the Sandiganbayan’s ruling that the Ombudsman’s finding of probable cause “rests on substantial basis” and did not constitute grave abuse of discretion.
It noted that the Ombudsman found that Padaca engaged the services of EDWINLF to manage Isabela’s provincial rice program without bidding and without waiting for its memorandum of agreement to be ratified by the Sangguniang Panlalawigan, thus, there is probable cause to believe that Padaca unduly favored the foundation.
The SC also affirmed the Ombudsman’s finding that there is probable cause to charge Padaca with malversation of public funds because she released the funds without any stipulations and terms of reference in the memorandum of agreement, particularly with respect to accountability of EDWINLF for the funds.
The SC noted that Padaca’s defenses are factual in nature, which are better discussed during trial.
“The Court cannot and will not nullify the Ombudsman’s factual findings on the sole ground that complainant does not agree with such findings,” the Court said.
The Court also ruled that the Sandiganbayan did not abuse its discretion in denying Soriano and Pine’s motion because it merely resolved whether arrest warrants should be issued against them.
“There is no allegation, much less proof, how this judicial determination was exercised in a capricious, whimsical or arbitrary manner,” it said.
Padaca’s trial before the Sandiganbayan has been ongoing since 2014.
Last year, she was fined P4,000 after she pleaded guilty of not filing her statements of assets, liabilities and net worth from 2007 to 2010.
Padaca is a Ramon Magsaysay awardee for good governance.