Solon: House-judiciary tussle drowning out real issue on Ilocos Norte tax misuse
The House committee on good government and public accountability on Thursday lamented that the tussle between Congress and the judiciary has taken the focus off the Ilocos Norte government’s alleged misuse of tobacco excise tax proceeds.
“Nawawala na po ang focus natin sa real issue (We are losing focus on the real issue),” Committee chairman Rep. Johnny Pimentel said during Thursday’s briefing at the House of Representatives.
“The issue here is not the fight or a legal tussle between the Court of Appeals and Congress. The real issue here is an anomaly and a highly irregular transaction occurred in local government unit,” he added.
Pimentel stressed that the focus should be on the alleged misuse of P66.45 million funds by the government of Governor Imee Marcos for purposes which were not provided for by Republic Act No. 7171.
The provincial government was alleged to have spent the funds on 40 minicabs, five second-hand buses, and 70 Foton mini-trucks for the use of its municipalities and barangays.
Citing preliminary findings, ABS Party-list Rep. Eugene Michael de Vera said this did not fall under the criteria set by the Act to Promote the Development of the Farmer in the Virginia Tobacco-Producing Provinces.
De Vera said that under the law, the province’s share of the tax should be used for cooperative projects, livelihood projects, agro-industrial projects, and infrastructure projects for the benefit of tobacco farmers.
He also raised the issue of the anomalous use of cash advances leading to the issuance of checks ahead of the actual opening of bids for the vehicle purchases. He also recalled that the vehicles have not been registered due to the lack of proper receipts from the suppliers.
“Meron pong nalabag na batas, hahayaan na lang ba natin yun? Meron pong katiwaliang nangyari, hahayaan po ba natin yun? (The law has been violated, are we going to let that go? Corruption happened, are we letting it go?)” Pimentel said.
He also said House Majority Floor Leader Rodolfo Fariñas, one of the authors of the House Resolution No. 882 that triggered the investigation, should not have to inhibit from the congressional inquiry amid issues of alleged politicking.
“Are we just going to keep quiet because of issue of politics? These are alleged anomalies,” Pimentel said.
The inquiry was hounded by a looming showdown between Congress and the judiciary over perceived breaches of the separation of powers between the coequal branches of government.
This was triggered by the detention of the so-called “Ilocos Six” provincial officials, whose unsatisfactory answers in a May 29 hearing led to them being cited in contempt by the committee. The Court of Appeals Special Fourth Division, however, ordered the six officials’ release acting on a habeas corpus petition filed by their high-caliber lawyer Estelito Mendoza, the country’s Solicitor-General during the dictatorship of Marcos’s father, Ferdinand Marcos.
The House has refused to recognize the CA’s jurisdiction, seeing it as inferior to the Supreme Court that it deems to be its true coequal. The confrontation escalated on June 20, after 30 members of Pimentel’s committee unanimously voted to issue a show-cause order directing Associate Justices Stephen Cruz, Edwin Sorongon, and Nina Antonio-Valenzuela to explain why they should not be cited in contempt for ordering the Ilocos Six’s release.
This prompted Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno and CA Presiding Justice Andres Reyes Jr. to issue a joint statement urging the House to recall the order and avail of legal remedies. The House has yet to formally serve the order, as it awaits the CA’s action on a pending motion for the inhibition of Justices Cruz and Antonio-Valenzuela from the case. JPV/rga