Imee Marcos finally attends House probe on tobacco funds mess
(Updated, 4:28 p.m.) Faced with the threat of detention, Ilocos Norte Governor Imee Marcos on Tuesday faced the House of Representatives’ inquiry into the alleged misuse of P66.45 million Ilocos Norte provincial government tobacco funds for minicabs, buses and minitrucks.
Marcos was accompanied by her mother Imelda Marcos and a family ally, former senator Juan Ponce Enrile.
Enrile earlier told reporters he would help Marcos to answer the allegations. Enrile as then the defense minister was a key figure in toppling the dictatorship of former President Ferdinand Marcos during the 1986 people power revolt.
In his opening speech, Enrile said he would give free legal assistance to Marcos, who even brought a copy of the 1987 Constitution to remind herself of her constitutional rights.
Enrile said he would help Marcos in deference to her father, the former president “whom I had served in previous capacities in government.”
In her opening statement, Marcos denied any anomaly in the overprice in the minitrucks and minivans using the provincial government’s tobacco funds.
“Walang korapsyon at katiwalian sa pagbili ng pamahalaan ng Ilocos Norte sa minitruck. Walang kickback o ghost purchase (There was no corruption or anomaly in the Ilocos Norte government’s purchase of minitrucks. There was no kickback or ghost purchase),” Marcos said.
During the hearing, lawmakers grilled Marcos about the alleged anomalous use of the tobacco funds through cash advances, which were made even before the conduct of a proper bidding.
Marcos said she does not remember all the details of the transactions, saying instead that she relied on the advice of the Bids and Awards Committee to resort to direct contracting.
“Umaasa ako sa professional na kakayahan ng aking tao (I depend on the professional expertise of my employees),” she said.
Marcos even cited the call of President Rodrigo Duterte in his second State of the Nation Address (Sona) to amend the procurement law to ease the public bidding rule.
Asked about the use of tobacco funds for a non-agricultural equipment as minitrucks and minivans, Marcos said the equipment are still agricultural in nature because these are used to haul agricultural produce.
When Surigao Del Sur Rep. Johnny Pimentel said the barangay (village) captains who received the vehicles were not even farmers, Marcos said Ilocos Norte is a largely agricultural province where barangay captains are also farmers.
Oriental Mindoro Rep. Doy Leachon slammed Marcos for violating the procurement law for releasing the cash advances even before the conduct of a proper public bidding.
“There is admission before this committee that it was done in undue haste, in violation of the procurement law,” Leachon said.
“I made no admission of such undue haste,” Marcos replied.
Marcos was also scored by lawmakers for resorting to cash advances, which is prohibited by the Commission on Audit.
Marcos defended the cash advances by citing the urgent need of farmers for the tobacco funds, denying that she received a COA observation which she did not sign that reported the anomalous use of cash advances.
To which Leachon said: “Ignorance of the law excuses no one from compliance therewith.”
The Marcoses attended the hearing as the lower house threatened to detain the governor for contempt if she continued to snub the hearing.
This after the lower house ordered six provincial government officials – who came to be known as the Ilocos Six – detained for contempt for refusing to answer questions during previous hearings.
The six officials were later ordered released after 57 days in detention after participating in Tuesday’s hearing.
READ: ‘Ilocos Six’ free to go
It was majority leader llocos Norte Rep. Rudy Fariñas who called for a House probe on the tobacco funds anomaly, in what is perceived to be a political show of force setting the stage for the 2019 elections in Ilocos Norte, where the Fariñas and Marcos clans are asserting dominance.
In calling for the probe, Fariñas alleged that about P66.45 million tobacco funds were used to purchase minicabs, buses and minitrucks for the different Ilocos Norte municipalities, even though the law—Republic Act 7171—that imposed the tax on Virginia cigarettes states that the excise tax should be used for livelihood projects and infrastructure projects benefitting the tobacco farmers. IDL/rga
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