House defies CA order to release detained Ilocos Norte officials

Mara Cepeda
House defies CA order to release detained Ilocos Norte officials
The CA orders the officials' release on June 9, but Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas says they have questioned the court's jurisdiction over Congress' contempt powers

MANILA, Philippines – The House of Representatives is defying a Court of Appeals (CA) ruling ordering the release of 6 Ilocos Norte officials who were detained for being uncooperative in a committee hearing.

As of Saturday, June 10, the following Ilocos Norte officials are still detained at the House Legislative Building even if the CA already ordered their provisional release the day before, Friday, June 9:

  • Pedro Agcaoili, Provincial Planning and 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

The 6 officials were detained since Monday, May 29 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.

Ilocos Norte 1st District Representative and Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas had presented documents bearing the signatures of the said officials that were used to buy mini-cabs, secondhand buses, and Foton trucks using the tobacco funds.

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.

This then prompted Fariñas to cite the officials in contempt and have them detained by House Sergeant-at-Arms Roland Detabali.

The Ilocos Norte officials, through their legal counsels and Ilocos Norte Governor Imee Marcos, then sought for the CA to issue them a writ of habeas corpus

The lawyers reasoned their clients did not categorically said they are refusing to answer the lawmakers’ questions, but merely requested for the original copies so they can properly verify.

The CA granted their request for provisional release on Friday, June 9, with a bail of P30,000 each.

But Fariñas said they already questioned the CA’s powers over the authority of congressional committees to cite resource persons in contempt.

“It’s a pending case in court, and we will address the issues properly in court. Having said that, the Office of the Solicitor General that is representing the Sergeant At Arms of the HOR, retired Lt Gen Roland Detabali, has questioned the jurisdiction of the Court of Appeals over the contempt powers of Congress,” 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. 

The House committee on good government and public accountability has already issued a subpoena against Marcos to appear in the next hearing in July. – 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.