House panel wants Imee Marcos to explain P66.45M in ‘misused’ tobacco funds

Mara Cepeda
House panel wants Imee Marcos to explain P66.45M in ‘misused’ tobacco funds
(UPDATED) Ilocos Norte Governor Imee Marcos' lawyer slams the 'irresponsible conclusions' and describes the House probe as 'premature politicking'

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – The House committee on good government and public accountability wants Ilocos Norte Governor Imee Marcos to personally explain why the capitol used P66.45 million in tobacco funds to purchase motor vehicles.

The panel on Tuesday, May 2, began its probe into the province’s use of its shares from the excise taxes imposed on locally manufactured Virginia-type cigarettes.

“Actually we will not issue a subpoena yet. We will send a strong letter warning them that if they will not attend the 2nd hearing, then we will issue a subpoena,” said panel chairperson and Surigao del Sur 2nd District Representative Johnny Pimentel.

He was referring to Marcos, the provincial board secretary, and provincial board members.

The panel will also issue subpoenas to the following officials to appear in the next hearing:

  • Michael Aguinaldo, Commission on Audit (COA) chairperson
  • Windel Chua, former Ilocos Norte provincial administrator
  • Encarnacion Gaor, Ilocos Norte Office of the Provincial Treasurer staff
  • Genedine Jambaro, Ilocos Norte Office of the Provincial Treasurer staff
  • Evangeline Tabulog, Ilocos Norte provincial budget officer
  • Pedro Agcaoili, Ilocos Norte Provincial Planning and Development Office staff
  • Joseph Castro, Ilocos Norte general services officer
  • Eden Battulayan, Ilocos Norte Provincial Accounting Office accountant IV

Under Republic Act Number 7171, 15% of cigarette excise taxes shall be allotted for a special support fund for tobacco farmers, who may use the money for cooperative, livelihood, agro-industrial, and infrastructure projects.

But House Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas said he uncovered checks for cash advances amounting to P66,450,000 in tobacco funds that were used by the Ilocos Norte provincial government to buy the following motor vehicles:

  • P18,600,000 on December 1, 2011 for 40 mini-cabs to be given to barangays
  • P15,300,000 on May 25, 2012 for 5 secondhand buses
  • P32,550,000 on September 12, 2012 for 70 Foton mini trucks for municipalities

Fariñas, incumbent Ilocos Norte 1st District representative and former governor, said barangay captains in his district were complaining they were given mini-cabs that did not have documents. 

“So nasisita sila, nahuhuli ng LTO (Land Transportation Office) dahil wala namang registration. Ang kanilang more urgent concern is sila ang nag-aabono sa fuel and oil ng mga vehicles (So the LTO apprehends them because they do not have registration. Their urgent concern is that they are the ones paying for the fuel and oil of the vehicles) because they could not use their budget in the barangay because these vehicles are not booked or documented as owned by the barangays,” Fariñas said.

Fariñas, Pampanga 3rd District Representative Aurelio Gonzales Jr, and Pampanga 4th District Representative Juan Pablo Bondoc then filed House Resolution Number 882 to probe the purchases.

Marcos’ lawyer Joseph Cadiz already slammed the probe in a statement.

“This is premature politicking. These are irresponsible conclusions. The accusations are irresponsible,” he said in a text message sent to Rappler by Marcos’ chief of staff Jun Gudoy. 

But Fariñas said he is simply “running after malfeasance, misfeasance, or nonfeasance in government.”

“From step one to the last step, [Marcos was involved]. Kasi siya ang pumirma according to the documents na bigay sa akin. Siya ang pumirma ng purchase request. Siya ang nag-approve ng disbursement voucher. Siya rin ang nag-approve ng check,” said Fariñas.

(From step one to the last step, Marcos was involved. She signed the documents which were given to me. She signed the purchase request. She approved the disbursement voucher. She also approved the checks.)

Since 1998, the Fariñas and Marcos families have either been allies or rivals in Ilocos Norte after the Marcoses returned to the province when patriarch and late dictator Ferdinand Marcos died in exile in 1989.

In 2015, the Marcoses cut ties with Fariñas and dropped him from their “One Ilocos Norte” ticket. – Rappler.com

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Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda specializes in stories about politics and local governance. She covers the Office of the Vice President, the Senate, and the Philippine opposition. She is a 2021 fellow of the Asia Journalism Fellowship and the Reham al-Farra Memorial Journalism Fellowship of the UN. Got tips? Email her at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or tweet @maracepeda.