By Rjay Zuriaga Castor
The Sandiganbayan has issued a 90-day preventive suspension on Antique Governor Rhodora J. Cadiao in relation to her ongoing case for alleged violation of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.
Associate Justice Ma. Theresa Dolores Gomez-Estoesta, who chairs the Sandiganbayan’s Seventh Division, said the suspension is necessary to forestall the possibility that Cadiao may use her office to intimidate witnesses, frustrate the prosecution of the case, or commit further acts of malfeasance.
The anti-graft law mandates the court to suspend a public officer facing an offense involving fraud upon government or public funds or property.
“The grounds for accused’s preventive suspension concur, which are: (1) accused’s arraignment under a valid Information; and (2) that the crime charged involves a violation of Section 3 (e) of R.A. 3019 (Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act),” the court noted in its minutes of the proceedings on September 21.
The Department of Interior and Local Government has yet to identify and inform the date of Cadiao’s preventive suspension.
In a speech during the flag-raising ceremony on September 25, Cadiao said she had received information of her possible suspension.
“To my political detractors, I say to you: do not wash your dirty hands to show as if you are not guilty of political oppression and persecution. But this I say to you: do not do what you have done to me to other Antiqueños; otherwise, you will unmask yourselves as strangers utterly lacking the heart for and of Antiqueños, which you really are,” she said.
She further assured her constituents that during her suspension, regular operations of the provincial government will still continue and that “the governance of the province will be in good and able hands.”
Cadiao’s case stemmed from a complaint filed by former Provincial General Services Office (PGSO) chief Antonio Dela Vega in 2018 with the Office of the Ombudsman. In 2017, the Civil Service Commission ordered Cadiao to reinstate Dela Vega to the PGSO, after her reassignment in Culasi town.
The former PSGO chief accused Cadiao of violating the anti-graft law by failing to sign his Daily Time Record, resulting in the non-release of his payment of salaries, representation and transportation allowances, and other benefits for the period July 2016 to February 2018 in the total amount of around P1.6 million.
During the pre-suspension hearing on September 19, the court said Dela Vega’s counsel informed the court of their execution of an affidavit of desistance submitted to the Office of the Ombudsman. This indicates an intention to withdraw the case.
It was also revealed that Cadiao’s counsel has an electronic copy of the same document and was apparently informed of the execution of the affidavit of desistance by Dela Vega himself.
“In the end, neither party submitted the original copy of the affidavit of desistance to the court, but more because the affiant himself (Dela Vega), being the private complainant, was not even called to identify it,” the court added.
In her defense before the Sandiganbayan, Cadiao claimed that the Office of the Ombudsman should have submitted the affidavit to the court, but the court said it is in the prosecution’s prerogative to withhold it, as it might affect the trial of the case.
“As it stands, none came from accused Cadiao to debunk the allegation of undue injury or damage. Being a court of record, a mere allusion to a purported fact that [a] private complainant (Dela Vega) has submitted an affidavit of desistance must still be presented and proven as evidence,” the court explained.
It added that presenting the affidavit of desistance before the court is not to debunk the essence of the allegations of the charge but to determine whether preventive suspension can be imposed on Cadiao.
“Regardless of which party should have presented it is now no longer consequential as the pre-suspension hearing ended with no affidavit presented and identified […] Since no contrary proof or allegation was given, the imposition of the preventive suspension is now inevitable,” the court said.
On June 7, the Sandiganbayan issued an arrest warrant on Cadiao, and two days after, her counsel posted a P90,000 bail in Kidapawan City, Cotabato. Following this, her legal team filed an Omnibus Motion to Quash Information, Recall Warrant of Arrest and Dismiss the Case, and a Motion for Reconsideration, which was denied by the court.