In Ilocos Sur, tobacco tax use leads to accusation of plunder
Former Ilocos Sur Gov. Luis “Chavit” Singson has filed a plunder case against the Zaragoza political clan of Narvacan town for the alleged misuse of P64.6 million in state funds.
Singson, a councilor-elect of Narvacan, accused National Tobacco Authority (NTA) Administrator Edgardo Zaragoza and his children, Mayor-elect Zuriel and Vice Mayor-elect Fayinna, of misappropriating P64.4 million of the town’s share in tobacco taxes in 2011.
In his affidavit filed in the office of the Ombudsman for Luzon on May 20, Singson claimed that the elder Zaragoza used his position as NTA chief to hide records of tobacco taxes appropriated to Narvacan since 2000 from the scrutiny of the Ilocos Sur provincial board. Singson’s son, Ryan Luis, is governor of Ilocos Sur.
Singson used audit reports of the Commission on Audit (COA) from 2011 to 2013 to pin down the Zaragozas for what he claimed was the “systematic raid” of Narvacan’s coffers.
He also alleged the Zaragozas failed to remit to the Bureau of Internal Revenue withheld taxes worth between P12 million and P16 million and to settle P69.251 million in audit suspensions.
He said the Zaragozas failed to submit documents for P124.195 million worth of transactions and on Narvacan’s property, plant and equipment.
Aside from COA records, Singson said the Zaragozas also issued mere resolutions instead of a more detailed appropriation ordinance for the release of P64.6 million of tobacco taxes to Narvacan in 2011.
Estelita Cordero, the lawyer of the Zaragozas, said that while her clients had yet to receive a copy of the plunder complaint, they were open to the demands made by Singson for a special audit of the town’s tobacco excise tax shares.
But she said the audit should include all beneficiaries in Ilocos Sur, including the provincial government, “to remove all [suspicions]” of misuse.
In his complaint, Singson said the Zaragozas had a free hand in using the funds.
This was the reason that, several years since the funds were appropriated, only a regional health unit was started but remained unfinished, Singson said.
At present, only posts stand on the project site when a structure should have been completed with the money used for the project, he said.
The misappropriation and misuse of public funds “all these years until this day represent a systematic raid of the coffers of the municipal government of Narvacan,” he said. With a report from Leoncio Balbin Jr., Inquirer Northern Luzon contributor
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