EXPLAINER: Radaza argues she didn’t have anything to do with P25M pork barrel allotted to Girl Scouts Cebu and she signed checks for P15M ‘in good faith.’ Sandiganbayan disagrees. Here’s why.

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KEY POINTS. [1] Rep. Paz Radaza was found guilty by the Sandiganbayan even though, she argued, she had nothing to do with securing and receiving the funds from the 2002 PDAF (Priority Development Assistance Fund) or pork barrel or getting any of it after it was disbursed by the Girl Scouts of the Philippines (GSP) Cebu Council.

[2] The anti-graft court rejected Radaza’s arguments, listed here. Given the ‘totality of circumstances,’ the court said, Radaza took part in a conspiracy that enabled ex-congresswoman Clavel A. Martinez to access P15 million (from the P25 million pork barrel) allotted for Cebu Girl Scouts’ anti-drug-abuse project. (The remaining P10 million was returned to Bogo town, which reportedly spent it for road projects.)

[3] Radaza’s case typifies the plight of other co-accused who “didn’t reap fruits of the crime” but enabled its commission.

PENALITIES SLAPPED ON RADAZA. In three of six cases covered by the joint decision of the Sandiganbayan on the P25 million pork barrel for Girl Scouts of the Philippines-Cebu Council, Rep. Paz Radaza of the lone district of Lapu-Lapu City was found guilty:

[] With Clavel Martinez, former Bogo mayor Celestino Martinez III and four others, of two counts of graft under Republic Act #3019 (Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act) and meted the penalty of imprisonment of from six years to 10 years for each count;

[] With the co-accused led by Clavel Martinez, of two counts of malversation of public funds under the Revised Penal Code (Act #3815) and meted the penalty of 10 years up to 17 years for each count.

On top of that, Radaza, with other specified accused, was ordered to pay a fine of P1.7 million with interest from the time the decision becomes final until paid. With six others – including Clavel and “Timing” Martinez – Radaza is given the penalty of perpetual disqualification to hold any public office and loss of all retirement benefits.

POINTS FOR RADAZA, OTHER CO-ACCUSED. The Sandiganbayan expressly noted that (a) other than Clavel Martinez, the co-accused didn’t “reap the fruits” of the P25 million pork barrel, and (b) Clavel, who allocated as a legislator the amount from her share of PDAF or Priority Development Assistance Fund, “caused the rest of the accused to act in according with her bidding.”

The Sandiganbayan decision – promulgated last February 28 but announced only last Thursday, May 19 – said Clavel Martinez used Bogo (still a town at the time) as “conduit” and GSP-Cebu Council as “final destination” from which she could withdraw the money.

What was the fault of Rep. Paz Radaza, then GSP-Cebu treasurer and the other co-accused, including Clavel’s son Tining, Bogo mayor, and her daughter Ma. Cielo Martinez, and those Bogo and GSP personnel? They followed the orders/requests of Mrs. Martinez who was GSP Cebu president when she secured the pork barrel while her daughter, her chief of staff in the House, was GSP Cebu treasurer.

PAZ RADAZA TESTIFIED SHE DIDN’T DO any of these things, to which the Sandiganbayan agreed:

* Didn’t solicit, or take part in securing, the money from Congress;

* Didn’t receive the funds, which GSP-Cebu deposited in its bank account and became part of its funds;

* Didn’t get any part of the amount “which all went to accused

Clavel Martinez”;

* Didn’t shirk from her job when she became GSP Cebu president: she had the fund mess investigated by an

ad-hoc committee.

The Sandiganbayan, however, pointed out that Radaza signed two vouchers and two checks, which “enabled accused Clavel Martinez to illegally withdraw” P15 million from GSP Cebu’s bank account.

“I did so in good faith,” Radaza argued, “relying on the professional staff” of GSP Cebu. She had no reason to “doubt or suspect” that the funds were, or would be, misappropriated by any party. She trusted that GSP Cebu’s president (Clavel Martinez) would use the money for the council’s programs and would liquidate them later.

‘DISTURBING, UNSETTLING.’ The Sandiganbayan didn’t agree with the Lapu-Lapu City congresswoman, finding these “disturbing” and “unsettling” :

(a) Paz Radaza didn’t question “in what capacity” Clavel Martinez received the big amount (P7.5 million) under each voucher, since being president didn’t give her “unbridled access” to GSP’s funds and board approval should’ve been first secured;

(b) Radaza should’ve suspected that “something was amiss” when Clavel Martinez was named sole recipient without the board resolution.

(c) Radaza should’ve acted on the “suspicious” facts that money was already being released for an anti-drug program whose mechanics still had to be discussed by the GSP Cebu board, of which Radaza as treasurer was also a member;

(d) Radaza issued one check payable to “Cash” and another check payable to “Clavel A. Martinez,” which to the anti-graft court was “another red flag,” as it was an imprudent practice, even though Radaza said it was “normal” at GSP Cebu.

FINDING OF CONSPIRACY. In sum, the 68-page decision said, “conspiracy among all the accused” was proved “beyond reasonable doubt.” All the accused “extended aid” to accused Clavel Martinez “in the execution of all acts necessary and indispensable” to commit the crime.

Conspiracy occurs, the ruling said, “when one concurs with the criminal design of another, indicated by the performance of an overt act leading to the crime committed.”

For that, direct proof isn’t necessary. It may be “inferred from the acts of the accused before, during or after the commission of the crime which, when taken together, would be enough to reveal a community of criminal design.” In assessing Radaza, the associate justices considered the “totality of the circumstances.”

That’s how the Sandiganbayan saw it. The Supreme Court may see it differently, although the finding of the lower court is generally respected by the SC unless there’s a compelling reason to reject it.

Radaza and the other accused in the same boat as she have to persuade the high court the compelling reason exists.

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