Imee Marcos grilled over ‘gross negligence’ in tobacco fund use

Mara Cepeda
Imee Marcos grilled over ‘gross negligence’ in tobacco fund use
Ilocos Norte Governor Imee Marcos maintains the transactions were aboveboard and benefitted local tobacco farmers

MANILA, Philippines – Lawmakers grilled Ilocos Norte Governor Imee Marcos over her supposed “gross negligence” in the purchase of motor vehicles using P66.45 million in local tobacco funds.

On Tuesday, July 25, Marcos appeared before the House committee on good government and public accountability to serve the subpoena issued against her. The committee is probing the following purchases of Ilocos Norte:

  • 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 second-hand buses
  • P32,550,000 on September 12, 2012, for 70 Foton mini-trucks for municipalities

The congressional investigation was initiated by Marcos’ political rival Ilocos Norte 1st District Representative and Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas and two of his deputies – Pampanga 3rd District Representative Aurelio Gonzales Jr and Pampanga 4th District Representative Juan Pablo Bondoc. 

Documents obtained by the committee showed there were red flags in the transactions, including the use of cash advances, missing documents, and improper bidding process. 

Oriental Mindoro 1st District Representative Doy Leachon asked Marcos why she authorized the purchases when there were indications of anomalies. 

Marcos said she did not notice any irregularities at the time. She also said she trusted the concerned departments under the provincial government to follow the right procedures.  

“Nung panahon na ‘yun, wala naman akong napapansin na ganoon. Baka nakaligtaan or baka nagmamadali lang kami na ma-serve ‘yung RA (Republic Act) 7171. At sa gabundok na mga transaction ng isang local chief executive, di ko na naalala ang mga detalye,” said Marcos.

(At the time, I didn’t notice anything like that. Maybe we forgot it or we were in a rush to serve RA 7171. A local chief executive deals with so many transactions, so I can’t remember all details.)

RA 7171 is the law that mandates that 15% of tobacco excise taxes shall be allotted for a special support fund for tobacco farmers in the identified provinces, mostly in the Ilocos region. The money, however, can only be used for the cooperative livelihood, agro-industrial, and infrastructure projects for tobacco farmers.  (READ: FAST FACTS: Tobacco funds in the Philippines)

Leachon then called out Marcos for signing off on the transactions. 

Hindi natin dapat inaasa ‘yan sa [ibang emplyado lang] (You should not just depend on [other employees]….If not intentionally, there was gross negligence on your end because transactions were done in undue haste,” said Leachon. 

“Ignorance of the law excuses no one for compliance therewith,” he added. 

Marcos came in full force to the hearing, and brought with her as her legal counsel former Senate president Juan Ponce Enrile, who had served as her late father’s justice secretary. 

Her mother, Ilocos Norte 2nd District Representative Imelda Marcos, sat beside the governor during the hearing. Governor Marcos’ son, Borgy and Matthew, an Ilocos Norte provincial board member, also attended the hearing. 

On cash advances

In the same hearing, Bondoc pointed out that Commission on Audit (COA) Circular 92-382 states that all disbursements by local government units should be made in checks. 

“‘Pag nag-cash advance, hindi naman ibig sabihin ay binulsa na agad….Kadalasan ay para ito sa mga cash on delivery (It doesn’t necessarily mean that when you use a cash advance that you pocketed the money too…Usually they’re used for cash on delivery transactions),” reasoned Marcos. 

Committee on good government and public accountability chairperson Johnny Pimentel then reminded her that cash advances are only allowed for salaries and wages, commutable allowances, honoraria and other similar payments to officials and employees, petty operating expenses.

Still, Marcos maintained the transactions were aboveboard and had benefitted local tobacco farmers.  

She also invited the committee members to speak to some tobacco farmers she brought along with her, but who were outside the Batasang Pambansa. –Rappler.com

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.