Imee Marcos finally testifies, escapes contempt
Ilocos Norte Gov. Imee Marcos on Tuesday apologized to lawmakers for claiming that they were offered P100 million to detain her in connection with their inquiry into the province’s alleged misuse of tobacco tax proceeds, avoiding being cited for contempt.
Her six subordinates, detained since May 29, were also ordered released by the House committee on good government after they finally admitted that they used P66 million from the proceeds of the tobacco tax to buy vehicles for the provincial government.
Marcos, joined by former Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile as her counsel and her mother, Ilocos Norte Rep. Imelda Marcos, finally appeared before the committee.
Majority Floor Leader Rodolfo Fariñas threatened to cite her for contempt for refusing to divulge the source of her allegation that “yellow forces” had dangled P100 million to the lawmakers so she would be detained.
After conferring with her lawyers, Marcos apologized and withdrew her statement.
“I apologize. It was my mere suspicion and given that the source is uncertain, I withdraw the accusation to the integrity and the honor of the House that P100 million was circulated. That was not true, and I asked for forgiveness for hurting some of the members of Congress,” she said.
Deputy Speaker Romero Federico Quimbo, the highest-ranking Liberal Party (LP) member in the House, did not take part in the inquiry, but addressed Marcos just the same. He said Fariñas was the last person LP would help for decimating its ranks.
“Of all issues being raised against the province, against you or whether there is animosity, I hope the party will not be made fodder as far as making the story more interesting. In this era of fake news, this is absolutely ultimate fake news,” Quimbo said.
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, LP chair, demanded an apology from Marcos.
Marcos had been warned of being arrested if she failed to attend the inquiry. The six provincial officials, known as “Ilocos Six,” have been detained since May 29 for failing to give satisfactory answers.
As Marcos appeared before the committee, the Ilocos Six finally admitted that the province used P66.45 million in proceeds from the tobacco tax to buy the vehicles.
Fariñas then moved for the lifting of the citation for contempt, setting them free after 57 days in detention.
One more hearing was set for Aug. 9.
The inquiry has put the House and the Court of Appeals on a collision course after the lawmakers defied an order from the appellate court to release the Ilocos Six.
During the hearing, Marcos said she had relied on her subordinates on the purchase of vehicles. She claimed that the transactions were aboveboard because the Commission on Audit (COA) never formalized its observations of procurement irregularities.
“It was cleared in the exit conference, and there was never any adverse finding. There was no [notice of] suspension, no disallowance [on the use of the funds], so I do not know of any anomaly,” she said. “The government was never disadvantaged. The COA has said nothing in its audit.”
Asked at various points about specific details on the procurement, Marcos said she could not recall any. “I rely on the personnel. If there are details that went wrong, I do not dig up each detail,” she said.
When Oriental Mindoro 1st Dist. Rep. Salvador Leachon asked why Marcos allowed the transactions to push through despite indications of irregularities, she said she was unaware at the time because of the sheer amount of the work she had to handle.
“At the time, I did not notice anything like that. Perhaps, it was overlooked, or we were just in a hurry to serve RA (Republic Act No.) 7171. With the mountains of transactions faced by a local chief executive, I would not recall the details,” the governor said.
Marcos also reasoned out that the use of the funds to buy vehicles still fell within the ambit of RA 7171, which sets aside tobacco tax proceeds to improve the lives of farmers through cooperative, livelihood or agro-industrial projects, and infrastructure projects such as farm-to-market roads.
She claimed that while Foton minitrucks were distributed to the municipalities and barangays, these were actually intended to haul agricultural produce to the market and help farmers cut out the middlemen.
When Ako Bicol party-list Rep. Alfredo Garbin Jr. asked why even Laoag City got vehicles despite having no tobacco farmers, Marcos reasoned out that the law recognized the tobacco industry as a sunset industry. And as such, the vehicles could be used to haul nontobacco plants to wean off farmers from the cash crop.
Marcos was repeatedly asked why the Ilocos Norte government took out cash advances to purchase the vehicles.
Representatives Juan Pablo Bondoc (Pampanga, 4th District) and Antonio Tinio (ACT Teachers party-list) said this violated COA Circular No. 92-382, which provides for all government disbursements to be in the form of checks, except for employee salaries, allowances and honoraria. —With a report from Christine O. Avendaño
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