Ilocos Norte officials detained in House seek writ of habeas corpus
MANILA, Philippines – The 6 Ilocos Norte officials currently detained at the House of Representatives following their testimonies in a committee investigation have filed a petition for the issuance of a writ of habeas corpus at the Court of Appeals (CA).
One of their legal counsels Da Vinci Crisostomo said in a statement that their detention at the House Legislative Building “was not right.”
“One ground for contempt [at the House] is ‘refusal to answer any question,’ but we saw in the [hearing] transcript and we heard that all they asked of them were answered,” said Crisostomo.
Last Monday, May 29, the following Ilocos Norte officials were cited in contempt and were ordered detained by the House committee on good government and public accountability during its probe into the alleged misuse of P66.45 million in tobacco funds to buy motor vehicles:
- Pedro Agcaoili, Provincial Planningand Development Office chairperson
- Josephine Calajate, provincial treasurer
- Eden Battulayan, provincial accountant
- Encarnacion Gaor, Provincial Treasurer’s Office staff
- Genedine Jambaro, Provincial Treasurer’s Office staff
- Evangeline Tabulog, provincial budget officer
Ilocos Norte Governor Imee Marcos was also issued a subpoena to appear during the next hearing in July.
On May 29, Ilocos Norte 1st District Representative and Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas presented documents bearing the signatures of the said officials that were used to buy mini-cabs, secondhand buses, and Foton trucks.
The 6 Ilocos Norte officials each had the same line. They said they cannot remember the purchases anymore given the many transactions they have processed. They refused to comment on the documents and asked the committee to show them the original copies.
Fariñas, who had initiated the probe, then called out the officials for their “dismissive” answers and made a motion for the committee to detain them until they answer properly.
A writ of habeas corpus will require the House to bring the 6 Ilocos Norte officials in court, which will then determine whether or not their detention is legal.
‘Clear conspiracy’ in Ilocos Norte?
But on Friday, June 2, Fariñas doubted the CA justices would grant the local officials’ petition.
“Under our rules, until they stop their contemptuous act of giving evasive answers, tantamount to refusal to answer. I don't think any man of sound mind, moreover, CA justices, would believe Genedine Jambaro when she stated under oath that she cannot remember receiving two cash advances of P32 million and P18 million, and Encarnacion Gaor of P15.3 million to buy 110 minicabs and 5 buses 4 years ago,” said Fariñas, who is also a lawyer.
He said there is a “clear conspiracy” to cover up the alleged misuse of tobacco funds in Ilocos Norte.
“As soon as the Resolution was filed for the investigation of these transactions, all the documents relating thereto were stolen from the COA office at the Provincial Capitol, and all the offices of the Provincial Treasurer, Accountant, Budget Officer and Development Coordinator have destroyed all their files,” said Fariñas.
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 Fariñas initiated the House investigation after obtaining 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
Rappler obtained documents saying the province's tobacco funds were used for Marcos' pet projects.
But in a letter sent to the committee, Marcos maintained there was no irregularity in Ilocos Norte's use of its tobacco funds. – Rappler.com