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8 Ilocos Norte officials cited for contempt for ‘snubbing’ House probe on tobacco tax

The House of Representatives yesterday cited in contempt eight Ilocos Norte provincial officials for their continued failure to appear before a congressional probe into alleged misuse of the tobacco excise tax.

Cited in contempt were Josephine Calajate, Encarnacion Gaor and Geraldine Jambaro of the provincial treasurer’s office; budget officer Evangeline Tabulog; Accountant IV Eden Battulayan; former provincial administrator Windell Chua; General Services officer Joseph Castro and Pedro Agcaoili, chairman of the provincial bidding and awards committee.
Ilocos Norte Gov. Imee Marcos, who skipped two hearings of the House committee on good government and public accountability, was spared from being cited in contempt after it was reported that she is on indefinite leave of absence. She, however, sent a letter to the committee seeking clarification on certain matters.
The eight other officials sent letters, citing same alibis for their inability to testify at yesterday’s hearings.  
All Ilocos Norte provincial officials were no-show in the hearing presided by committee chairman and Surigao del Sur Rep. Johnny Ty-Pimentel despite being sent invitations.
At the resumption of the congressional probe into allegations of misuse of some P66.4 million share of the province from the tobacco excise tax, Commission on Audit (CoA) Chairman Michael Aguinaldo acceded to the lawmakers’ suggestion to conduct a special audit of the tobacco excise tax expenditures.
The good government panel has been tasked to conduct a probe into the alleged anomalies surrounding the use of the excise tax collection after it was discovered that a huge portion of the province’s share was spent in purchasing vehicles, an item not included on the list of allowable expenditures under Republic Act 7171, or the excise law on Virginia tobacco.
In House Resolution 882, Majority Leader and Ilocs Norte Rep. Rodolfo Fariñas, together with Reps. Juan Pablo Bondoc (Pampanga) and Aurelio Gonzales (Pampanga) decried the use of tobacco fund for vehicle purchase as a blatant violation of RA 7171.
They insisted that they awaited for instructions for Marcos on the House invitation at the first hearing.  The provincial officials also sent uniform letters yesterday, claiming this time that they were not given sufficient time to prepare.
The committee voted unanimously to reject the excuses raised and proceeded to cite them in contempt.
In her letter to the committee, Marcos stressed that there “was nothing irregular” in the acquisition of vehicles intended for tobacco farmers of Ilocos Norte.
“The need for transport to increase productivity, market produce and facilitate access to livelihood and training projects, among others, funded RA 7171 is germane to the purpose of the law,” she said.
The Ilocos Norte governor added the purchases being questioned have passed post audit conducted by CoA.
Also, Marcos sought clarification from the House committee what particular provisions of RA 7171 is the House trying to amend, since the probe called for by the panel was “in aid of legislation.”

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