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Imee accuses Fariñas of swiping original tobacco documents

By Charlie V. Manalo and Gerry Baldo

Ilocos Norte Gov. Imee Marcos, speaking out regarding the House of Representatives’ ongoing investigation into the province’s alleged misuse of tobacco funds, pointed out that the original documents of the transactions involved were taken from the Commission on Audit (CoA) office inside the Provincial Capitol by a personnel of House Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas.
But the chairman of the House Committee on Justice yesterday accused Gov. Marcos of trying to manipulate the Philippine Constitution in order to sway the issue of corruption from the ongoing House investigation in connection with the alleged misuse of over P66-milion in the province’s share of the tobacco excise tax. “The Constitution is being prostituted and the principles underlying it,” Oriental Mindoro Rep. Rey Umali said in a press conference yesterday.

Umali said that Imee’s actions are damaging both the Legislature and the Judiciary as democratic institutions.
“I’ve heard they (Marcos’ camp) are asking (the SC) to stop the inquiry of the committee on good government. How could this happen when this is a discretion that is absolutely lodged in the representatives of the people in the members of Congress?” he said.
Fariٌas, known as the main political rival of Marcos in Ilocos Norte, initiated the inquiry through House Resolution No. 882.
While he had campaigned and won alongside Marcos in 2010, he was removed from the latter’s “One Ilocos Norte” bid in 2013.
He was also present during the 2011 and 2012 distributions of the vehicles purchased using the province’s tobacco funds.
The subject of lost original documents surfaced in the third House hearing into the tobacco fund issue last May 29, when six employees of the Provincial Government of Ilocos Norte (PGIN) were cited in contempt and detained for “refusing to answer questions.”
However the employees, dubbed “Ilocos Six,” had only requested to see the original documents before testifying, lest they commit perjury by giving sworn statements based on possible falsified photocopied documents.
Fariٌas then implied that it was the employees themselves of PGIN who had the lost documents.
As of today, the Ilocos Six have been detained at the House Office of the Sergeant-at-Arms for 49 days or seven weeks.
Legal counsels of the Ilocos Six have pursued legal remedies such as petitioning for the writ of habeas corpus and their provisional release, which were granted by the Court of Appeals, but three times the House defied the court order.
The House even issued a show-cause order against the CA justices who ordered the release, but they recently withdrew this in place of a motion for inhibition.
Lawyer Bayan Quinones, legal counsel of the Ilocos Six, bared that they had filed a unified petition at the Supreme Court (SC).
Marcos filed an omnibus petition last week, questioning the House committee on good government’s inquiry into the provincial government’s alleged misuse of P66.45 million in the tobacco excise tax.
Umali said that the SC cannot meddle in the affairs of the House of Representatives because the congressional power to investigate is “absolute.”
“How can there be grave abuse of discretion on a discretionary power absolutely given no less than by the Constitution to Congress? That can’t be,” he told a press conference. “I have always taken a position that there are certain matters raised before the SC that is a political question that the SC should not even entertain.”
The good government committee has been investigating the alleged irregular cash advances made by Ilocos Norte to procure 40 multicabs (P18.6 million); five second hand Hyundai buses (P15.3 million); and 70 mini-trucks priced (P32.5 million) in 2011 and 2012.
Umali asked the justices to “respect our mandate so we can avoid clashes.”
In her 67-page petition, Marcos asked the Supreme Court to assume jurisdiction over the habeas corpus case filed before the Court of Appeals by six employees of the provincial government called the “Ilocos Six” who have been detained by the House since May for refusing to answer questions pertaining to the tobacco excise tax.
This developed as Deputy Speaker Sharon Garin said anyone would find it highly suspicious that the 70 minitrucks were all unregistered with the Land Transportation Office (LTO) and have no records showing that these were bought from a local authorized dealer.
Even more suspicious, she said, was the committee’s findings that the minitrucks were neither manufactured by the company nor distributed locally and that even it bore another name—“Forland.”
“Only Governor Marcos can answer the numerous questions behind the irregularities involving the acquisition of the 70 minitrucks, among other suspected anomalies in these transactions, given that the provincial employees privy to these dealings have refused to cooperate with the committee and have all suddenly forgotten about them when these happened barely five years ago,” Garin said.
The good government panel chaired by Rep. Johnny Pimentel (PDP-Laban, Surigao del Sur) has been investigating the purchases for possible violation of Republic Act 7171 which states that the share of provinces from the taxes should only be used for certain projects that will promote the welfare of tobacco farmers.
“Considering that the governor’s hand was in every stage of the procurement process—from the purchase request up to the signing of the checks, who else can best enlighten the public about these suspicious deals?” Garin said.
Garin also questioned why the documents pertaining to the transactions on the 115 vehicles have gone missing and none of the originals could be found either at the provincial capitol or the Commission on Audit’s provincial stockroom.
She recalled that upon questioning of Pimentel, LTO Regional Director Teofilo Guadiz III told the panel that only Foton ambulances were registered with their office and that none of the five secondhand buses, 40 multicabs or 70 minitrucks were registered.
Pimentel also asked Ruby Grace Dimaano, the vice president for legal and compliance of United Asia Automotive Group Inc. (UAAGI), the local exclusive distributor of Foton vehicles, if Ilocos Norte bought 70 minitrucks from them which he denied.
All these vehicles were purchased using cash advances from the province’s share in the proceeds from excise taxes on Virginia cigarettes, in apparent violation of government procurement rules.
The Commission on Audit (CoA) has questioned the use of cash advances to purchase the vehicles, while lawmakers have pointed to violations of CoA Circular 92-382 (series of 1992), which bars the use of cash advances in government purchases.
House Majority Leader Fariٌas, who filed the resolution seeking an inquiry into this issue, and Rep. Johnny Pimentel, who chairs the good government committee, both said at the House committee hearings that the acquisition of the vehicles, using cash advances from Ilocos Norte’s share in tobacco excise taxes violated provisions of Republic Act 7171.
This law states that a portion of the share from excise taxes on locally produced Virginia-type cigarettes allotted for Virginia tobacco-producing provinces should be used to promote the welfare of farmers through the implementation of cooperative, livelihood and agro-industrial projects and infrastructure projects such as farm-to-market roads.
An even more glaring anomaly, according to Garin, is that all the documents pertaining to the transactions on the 115 vehicles have gone missing. None of the originals could be found either at the provincial capitol or the CoA stockroom in the province.
She recalled that upon questioning by Pimentel, LTO Regional Director Teofilo Guadiz III said in one of the committee hearings that only Foton ambulances were registered with their office and that none of the five secondhand buses, 40 multicabs or 70 minitrucks were registered.
The six provincial officials or the “Six Amnesiacs” who were involved in processing the disbursement vouchers and other documents for the cash advances also said these papers were no longer in their custody and insisted during the hearings that they be shown copies of the originals even though they themselves were aware of the disappearance.
The “Six Amnesiacs” were cited in contempt for refusing to cooperate in the probe and are currently detained at the Batasan complex.
They are Josephine Calajate, Ilocos Norte’s provincial treasurer; Encarnacion Gaor and Genedine Jambaro, both working at the Provincial Treasurer’s Office; Evangeline Tabulog, the provincial budget officer; Eden Battulayan, OIC-accountant; and Pedro Agcaoili, the chairman of the Bids and Awards Committee and the Provincial Planning and Development Office.

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