‘Be careful, Grace,’ Aquino warns Padaca

President Benigno Aquino himself had cautioned newly appointed Commission on Elections (Comelec) Commissioner Grade Padaca about her new job.

“Ingat, Grace (Take care, Grace),’’ Padaca quoted the President as saying after he appointed her to the seat left vacant for half a year now by Augusto Lagman who was not reappointed by the Chief Executive.

Padaca, who officially assumed the position Monday after taking her oath before Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, made light of the remark, saying it could have been President Aquino’s “way of saying welcome,” or that he wanted her to be careful as she could end up stepping on some very big toes in the course of doing her job.

The newest election commissioner, however, should brace herself for questioning by Sen. Miriam Santiago when she attends her confirmation in the Commission on Appointments.

Santiago said Padaca would be asked to explain her supporters’ position justifying her acceptance of the Comelec post when the law bars candidates in the last election from being appointed to a constitutional body such as the Comelec, Commission on Audit (COA) and the Civil Service Commission (CSC).

Padaca’s supporters maintain that she may have lost her gubernatorial bid in the 2010 elections, but that the last poll held in the country was the barangay election in October.

“The law provides you cannot be appointed if you were a candidate in the immediately preceding election. If we apply this literally then Padaca’s supporters are correct because the immediately preceding election was the barangay election,” Santiago said.

But, the senator added, “Have you ever heard of anybody appointed to the COA or CSC or Comelec… who ran in barangay elections? So if we interpret (the law) in the way proposed by (her) supporters, the result will be (no restrictions) about partisanship anymore because the exceptions will follow the rule.”

Malacañang named Padaca to the Comelec last week amid protests that she is facing graft charges arising from a P25-million malversation case filed by former Isabela Rep. Santiago Respicio. Critics have also questioned why she was not arrested after the Sandiganbayan issued a warrant in May.

Eventually posted bail

Padaca refused to post bail in protest of the antigraft court’s decision, but last week she posted the P70,000 bond provided by President Aquino, prompting her critics to question her impartiality and independence in the election body.

On her first day as Comelec commissioner yesterday, Padaca said she might not be a lawyer like her colleagues but that as a certified public accountant, she could help the election body in its strict implementation of the laws governing campaign contributions and expenditures during the campaign period.

“(T)here were organizations calling on the Comelec to do something about campaign finance. If I were assigned [to that area], I would oblige,” Padaca told reporters.

The new commissioner, who is allowed up to 20 staff members, said she was planning to hire lawyers as part of her staff. “I will be sufficiently guided as long as the right people are chosen for the position,” she said.

She added: “[But] for someone who is a nonlawyer but an active participant in the elections, I think my experience when I was still citizen Grace or candidate Grace will help me push for reforms in the Comelec.”

In 2004, Padaca challenged the Dys, a well-entrenched political family in her native Isabela, and won as governor. She was reelected in 2007, but lost a third term by a slim margin in the first automated elections two years ago.

She also asked her critics to judge her independence based on the decisions she would be issuing as a member of the Comelec’s Second Division.

“I will just be myself… I will be Grace Padaca and Grace Padaca is one who respects the truth,” she said.

The former Isabela governor immediately proceeded to the Comelec headquarters in Intramuros, Manila, after taking her oath and was met by Comelec Chair Sixto Brillantes Jr. and Commissioners Rene Sarmiento, Elias Yusoph, Lucenito Tagle and Armando Velasco. Only Commissioner Christian Robert Lim was not around.

And to highlight the fact that Padaca was the only woman election commissioner, the Comelec en banc addressed her as “Princess Grace.”

‘Be careful, Grace,’ Aquino warns Padaca

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