MANILA, Philippines – The 6 Ilocos Norte officials, who had been detained at the House of Representatives for 22 days, cried during a hearing on Tuesday, June 20, as they appealed to the committee on good government and public accountability to release them.
The House panel called for an emergency hearing on the alleged misuse of P66.45 million of Ilocos Norte’s tobacco funds to give the following officials a chance to give their proper testimonies:
- 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
Majority Leader and Ilocos Norte 1st District Rodolfo Fariñas, who had initiated the probe, asked Battulayan to check an audit observation memorandum (AOM) involving Ilocos Norte’s purchase of motor vehicles using provincial tobacco funds.
She refused to answer, tearing up as she explained this was the first time she was presented the AOM.
“As of this date and as of this time, we are very much depressed. ‘Di pa kami nakauwi sa aming pamilya, sir. Kung puwede lang, give us time to verify this AOM kasi ngayon lang namin nakita ito. ‘Di sinerve sa amin ito noon,” said Battulayan, her voice breaking. (We haven’t gone home yet to our families, sir. If possible, give us time to verify this AOM because we’ve only seen this now. This was not served to us before.)
“We are not in a position right now to answer questions kasi very much depressed na kami. Worried na worried na po kami. Please, sir, maawa naman kayo. Pauwiin ‘nyo na lang kami, then we will come back anytime na gusto ‘nyo, ‘pag medyo na stable na ang aming pag-iisip,” she added.
(We are not in a position right now to answer questions because we are very much depressed. We are very worried. Please, sir, have mercy on us. Let us go home and we will come back anytime you want, when we are more stable.)
The committee previously cited the Ilocos Norte officials in contempt and detained them on May 29 after they gave “dismissive” answers when Fariñas presented copies of documents bearing their signatures on the purchase of motor vehicles.
They all told Fariñas then they could not comment on the documents as these were only copies and asked that they see the originals. The committee already pointed out that the original copies of the documents vanished as soon as the resolution initiating the investigation was filed.
Fariñas was unfazed by Battulayan’s appeal, telling her the Rules of Court allow the House to make use of secondary documents in a congressional probe when original copies are missing.
He also warned the Ilocos Norte officials against using lawyers who were provided by Governor Imee Marcos and the rest of the Marcoses. (READ: ‘Mastermind’ muzzling Ilocos Norte execs in House probe, says Fariñas)
“Kaya ‘yong mga abogado ‘nyo, mag-ingat kayo, kasi mayroon silang pinagtatakpan! Sinasabihan kayo na ‘wag magsalita [pero] kayo ang kawawa! You are the least guilty here!” said Fariñas. (Be careful with your lawyers because they are covering up for someone else! They’re telling you not to talk, but you’re the ones who are the ones who will get into trouble here!)
He also offered the chance for the officials to become state witnesses just so they would testify, but they did not accept. (READ: House warns Imee Marcos: Attend probe or face arrest)
Back to detention
The rest of the 5 officials also refused to reply to the committee’s questions, either asking to see the original documents or saying they cannot speak without their lawyer.
Agcaoili refused to answer Fariñas’ questions, saying he can only speak when their preferred lawyer Vicente Lazo is present. Lazo, also a provincial board member, could not attend the hearing due to previous commitments.
Surigao del Sur 2nd District Representative Johnny Pimentel, the committee chairperson, replied: “If you’re not willing to answer any questions, wala po kaming magagawa kundi ibalik kayo sa detention cell (we have no choice but to return you to your detention cell).
Jambaro, meanwhile, invoked her “right to remain silent” when asked by Fariñas to comment on a check bearing her signature. The Majority Leader, who is also a lawyer, said she cannot do this. “You do not invoke your right to remain silent in an inquiry. That’s what the Supreme Court says, ma’am. It only applies in a criminal investigation. This is a congressional hearing,” he said in Filipino.
Ilocos Norte 2nd District Representative Imelda Marcos, mother of Imee Marcos, had written to Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez for the release of the officials. She said some of them suffer from cardiomyopathy, diabetes, or mild stroke: “I vouch for the 6 employees. They shall appear and respect the invitations or subpoena issued to them by this honorable committee.”
But neither the appeal of congresswoman Marcos and the officials were enough. Because they refused to properly answer the lawmakers’ questions on Tuesday, the Ilocos Norte officials were escorted back to their detention room at the House Legislative Building. – Rappler.com