THE SUPREME Court (SC) affirmed the indictment of former Isabela governor Grace Padaca and two others for graft and malversation of public funds.
The charges involve a P25 million fund given to a foundation for the implementation of a provincial rice program. The high court has directed the Sandiganbayan to continue the necessary proceedings on the case.
In an Aug. 8 decision, the graft court’s Second Division dismissed the consolidated petition of Ms. Padaca, manager Dionisio Pine of private foundation Economic Development for Western Isabela and Northern Luzon Foundation, Inc. (EDWINLFI), and Municipal Councilor Servando, who is also the chairman of EDWINLFI. They sought to nullify the Office of the Ombudsman’s finding of probable cause for the filing of graft and malversation of public funds and the Sandiganbayan’s denial of their motion to recall the arrest warrant on them.
The case involved the Provincial Government of Isabela’s procurement of a P35 million loan from the Development Bank of the Philippines for the funding of the Priority Agricultural Modernization Project of Isabela. However, P25 million of the loan was released to EDWINLFI.
The SC stated that it agreed with the Sandiganbayan’s ruling that “no grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess in jurisdiction” can be linked to the Ombudsman’s finding of probable cause against the petitioners as it is grounded on “substantial basis.”
The high court also said there is no grave abuse of discretion on the part of the Sandiganbayan in its denial of the appeal by the accused to recall the warrants for their arrest as it “aptly limited its determination of probable cause to resolve whether arrest warrants should be issued against the petitioners.”
“In sum, there is no cogent reason to disturb the Ombudsman’s finding of probable cause and the Sandiganbayan’s denial of Soriano and Pine’s Omnibus Motion….[T]he Court cannot and will not nullify the Ombudsman’s factual findings on the sole ground that the complainant does not agree with such findings,’” the decision read.
In its investigation, the Ombudsman found out Ms. Padaca involved the services of EDWINLFI in managing the rice program without “due regard to the rules on government procurement” and despite there being no memorandum of agreement ratified by the Sangguniang Panlalawigan.
It also noted that the affiliation of Mr. Soriano and the provincial government’s legal officer Johnas M. Lamorena with EDWINLFI cast suspicion on the regularity of the transaction.
In another ruling, the Supreme Court (SC) affirmed the Sandiganbayan’s acquittal of former Caloocan City mayor Enrico R. Echiverri and two others from graft charges and falsification of documents.
In a resolution dated Oct. 1, the SC dismissed the petition of the Office of the Ombudsman which assailed the Sandiganbayan’s ruling in favor of Mr. Echiverri for failure “to sufficiently show” that the graft court gravely abused its discretion in granting the demurrer to evidence filed by Mr. Echiverri, former city accountant Edna V. Centeno and former city budget officer Jesusa C. Garcia.
The high court affirmed the Sandiganbayan’s grant of respondents’ demurrer to evidence, as the evidence presented by the prosecution showed that Mr. Echiverri was authorized to enter into the concerned city development projects.
The SC added that the projects “strictly underwent the required procurement process, thereby eliminating the possibility that it was entered into by respondents with manifest partiality or with gross inexcusable negligence” that resulted in damage to the local government.
“In this light, the (graft court) also correctly ruled that Centeno and Garcia did not commit any falsification in certifying that funds were available for the subject infrastructure project(s),” the high court said in part. — Vann Marlo M. Villegas