Ma. Gracia Cielo "Grace" Magno Padaca (born October 25, 1963) has been the governor of the northern province of Isabela, Philippines since 2004. Among Filipino politicians, she is among the minority not from politically connected families. Her success has largely been attributed to her support from the Catholic Church and her fame as a radio commentator on radio station Bombo Radyo in Cauayan.
During her childhood, she suffered from polio, which has forced her to walk with crutches for most of her life.
2001 congressional elections
Grace Padaca ran for Congress in 2001. Her campaign struck a responsive chord among Isabela voters, and initial results showed her winning in most of the seven municipalities and one city of the congressional district. The final tally, though, had her losing to her opponent, Faustino "Bojie" Dy, by a margin of 1,285 votes (he got 50.7 percent of the vote to her 49.3 percent).
She protested the results of 151 ballot boxes. Dy countered, questioning the results not only of the 151 precincts but all 812 precincts. Padaca initiated what she called an "Adopt A Ballot Box" campaign, where a donor knew that each P1,000 donated would defray the cost of a ballot box revision. Her campaign was not limited to Isabelinos. She sent letters to people she had never met, but whom she believed to be persons of good will, asking for their help. The great majority responded--people like Enrique Zobel (who also hired her as an accountant in his hacienda in Calatagan, Batangas)--and she raised the required amount.
The revision of the ballots in 812 ballot boxes found definitively that not only were the questioned Angandanan CoC and SoV fraudulent, falsified, and padded, there was also evidence of post-election fraud in the form of genuine ballots being removed from the boxes, then replaced with spurious ones that had Dy's name in handwriting other than the voter's.
But after two and a half years, the House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal (HRET), in a decision promulgated on December 18, 2003, declared Dy the winner by 48 votes. Those who signed that decision were Supreme Court Associate Justices Leonardo A. Qusimbing, Angelina Sandoval Gutierrez, Representatives Douglas Cagas (Davao del Sur), Zenaida Ducut (Pampanga), Enrico Echiverri (Caloocan), and Joaquin Chipeco (Laguna).
A major point of disagreement was what to do with the ballots with "Grace" written on them. The majority of the HRET refused to count ballots with "Grace" written on them in favor of Grace Padaca. Their reason was that her real name was "Maria Gracia Cielo Padaca" and the nickname she gave when she filed her candidacy was "Bombo Grace". According to their logic, "Grace" was not the same as "Bombo Grace", and there was no reason to conclude that Grace derives from Gracia. Furthermore, it is not the dominant name in Maria Gracia Cielo, since "Maria" appears first.
Justice Vitug made no bones about what he thought of that reasoning, "The admission of 'Grace' only votes will not in any way violate the law," he opined. "No doubt the voters intended to vote for Protestant when they wrote 'Grace' only on the ballot, considering that the same is admittedly the name by which Protestant is popularly known. Additionally, there was no other candidate, whether national or local, who ran in the May 14, 2001 elections with the name or nickname of 'Grace.'"
Vitug also pointed out that the name "Maria GRACE Cielo Padaca" was listed in the certified list of candidates, in all the different copies of CoCs and SoVs and even in the ERs found inside the ballot boxes. He therefore concluded, there could be no doubt that the voters intended to vote for Padaca when they wrote "Grace" on their ballots.
2004 gubernatorial elections
Grace Padaca was victorious in the 2004 gubernatorial election in the northern province of Isabela with 55% of the vote. The physically challenged look to her, a polio victim, as proof that being handicapped is no barrier to success (valedictorian in elementary and high school and magna cum laude in college). Would-be public servants reluctant to enter the political race because they are honest and poor are inspired by her performance (what she lacked in financing, she got from volunteers). Ordinary people who felt helpless against dynasties and political machinery have been heartened. Grace has shown them that they can make a difference.
Of course, the feeling is not unanimous. The Dy family, whose 30-year grip on political power was broken in the 2004 elections, is not among her fans. Then there are Election Commissioners Rufino Javier and Virgilio Garcillano, whose rulings leave no doubt in anyone's minds as to whose side they are on. It was on their order that radio station Bombo Radyo was closed down on the eve of election day; and it was they who signed the temporary restraining order on Grace's proclamation, based on the charge that she should be disqualified because she used terrorist tactics to force people to vote for her.
2007 gubernatorial elections
She was reelected as governor in the 2007 election.
International Women of Courage Award
On December 5, 2007, US Ambassador Kristie Kenney personally conferred to Padaca the prestigious International Women of Courage Award, an award which was also conferred to former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. It was bestowed on Padaca for her continued development of Isabela following a colorful stint as a broadcast journalist.
Padaca, 44, on July 31, 2008 was among the 8 winners of the 2008 Ramon Magsaysay Award( Asia's version of the Nobel Prize), for Government Service for "empowering Isabela voters to reclaim their democratic right to elect leaders of their own choosing, and to contribute as full partners in their own development."
Illegal logging task force
Padaca campaigned against illegal logging problems, which caused 30,000 "Bugador" (loggers) to lose jobs despite pleas for livelihood. i-Witness: The GMA Documentaries featured this controversy. Padaca reactivated the anti-illegal task force amid incessant complaints and reports from the province's concerned citizens, the Catholic Church (whose 7 priests staged hunger strikes) and various organizations against the resumption of illegal logging in government protected Sierra Madre biodiversity corridor - "Sierra Madre National Park." Isabela has 600,000 hectares of Cagayan Valley's 900,000 hectares of forest cover.
Padaca, Gov. Ed Panlilio (of Pampanga), (Naga City) Mayor Jesse Robredo, and Mayor Sonia Lorenzo of San Isidro, Nueva Ecija, launched "Kaya Natin", a group that "seeks to recruit principled local government officials to change the country's deteriorating political situation." Their 'Islands of Hope' - university campus tour, a new movement for ethical leadership and good governance was launched on July 31, 2008, at the Ateneo de Manila University's Walter Hogan Conference Center in Quezon City. They also launched a website mainly to give Filipinos working abroad easier access, which can be reached at Kayanatin.com