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Tobacco tax probe being sidetracked, solon laments

The clash between Congress and the judiciary over the release of six Ilocos Norte officials and employees detained at the House of Representatives has taken the focus away from the alleged corruption-tainted use of proceeds from the tobacco excise tax, the congressman who has headed the inquiry into the allegations said on Thursday.

The attention should be on the P66.45 million allegedly misused by the provincial government under Gov. Imee Marcos when it purchased vehicles for Ilocos Norte towns and barangays, said Rep. Johnny Pimentel, head of the House good government and public accountability committee.

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“The issue here is not the fight or a legal tussle between the Court of Appeals (CA) and Congress. The real issue here is an anomaly and a highly irregular transaction occurred in [a] local government unit,”

Pimentel said. “A law has been violated, are we going to let that go? Corruption happened, are we letting it go?”

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The “Ilocos Six” were detained after they allegedly refused to answer queries from the House committee probing the alleged anomalous vehicle purchases. The CA granted their habeas corpus petition and ordered them released, but the House leadership has rebuffed the court several times.

In a statement on Thursday, Marcos dismissed insinuations that the vehicle supply contract was tainted with corruption and appealed to the House to release the six detainees on humanitarian grounds.

She also promised to appear at the congressional hearing.

“The transactions being questioned complied with the procurement law and the conditions for lawful cash advances have been fully complied with,” she said in a statement issued by her lawyer, former Solicitor General Estelito Mendoza.

The provincial government allegedly spent tobacco tax funds on 40 minicabs, five second-hand buses and 70 mini-trucks.

ABS Party-list Rep. Eugene Michael de Vera said the purchases were not covered by Republic Act No. 7171, which aims to promote the welfare of farmers in Virginia tobacco-producing provinces.

De Vera said under the law, the province’s share of the tax should be used for cooperative, livelihood, agro-industrial, and infrastructure projects for tobacco farmers.

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He also cited the anomalous use of cash advances that led to the issuance of checks ahead of the actual opening of bids for the vehicle purchases.

In her statement, Marcos urged Pimentel’s committee not to let “petty local political conflicts” result in a legal dispute involving the judiciary and the legislative branches of government.

She was referring to the political rivalry between the Marcoses and Ilocos Norte Rep. Rodolfo Fariñas, the House Majority Leader and one of the authors of the resolution who triggered the investigation.

“Political vendetta cannot justify putting the legislature and the judiciary on a collision course at the expense of the rights of hapless citizens,” she said.

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TAGS: House of Representatives, Ilocos Six, Imee Marcos, Philippine news updates
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