Imee Marcos demands end to House 'inquisition'

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Ilocos Norte Governor Imee Marcos fired back over allegations she misused P66.45 million of provincial tobacco funds to purchase motor vehicles.

In a press conference on Thursday, July 13, Marcos maintained the transactions were aboveboard and claimed they were for the benefit of local tobacco farmers.  

"May mga papeles kami. 'Wag ginagawang inquisition ng Kamara. Ang programa ng Kongreso ay maghain at gumawa ng batas (We have papers. Don't make this an inquisition in Congress. Congress is mandated to make laws) – investigations in aid of legislation, not investigations in aid of persecution of political opponents," said Marcos.

"Pulitikang lokal ang pinagmulan nito. Bakit hindi ibalik sa Ilocos Norte ang laban na 'yan?" added the embattled governor. (Local politics is the root of this. Why not bring the fight back to Ilocos Norte?)

The House committee on good government and public accountability is looking into Ilocos Norte's purchases of 40 mini-cabs, 5 secondhand buses, and 70 mini-trucks from 2011 to 2012 using P66.45 million in tobacco funds.

Republic Act Number 7171 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 law says the funds may only be used for cooperative, livelihood, agro-industrial, and infrastructure projects.

The House investigation so far revealed red flags in the transactions, including missing documents and improper bidding processes. Local officials also refused to answer lawmakers' questions.

The probe was initiated by Majority Leader and Ilocos Norte 1st District Representative Rodolfo Fariñas. He had a falling out with the Marcoses last year after the family dropped him from their "One Ilocos Norte" ticket in the 2016 polls. (READ: #AnimatED: In this corner, Marcos vs Fariñas)

The House panel already issued a subpoena for Marcos to appear during the next hearing on July 25. If she fails to show up, lawmakers can cite her in contempt and order her arrest until she cooperates. (READ: House says Imee Marcos can still work as governor while in detention)

Durng the press conference, Marcos also presented the omnibus petition she filed urging the Supreme Court (SC) to take over the case involving the detention of 6 Ilocos Norte officials at the House.

The so-called "Ilocos 6" were detained by the committee on May 29 after giving "dismissive" answers during the hearing. (READ: 'Maawa naman kayo,' detained Ilocos Norte officials tell House)

They have since managed to secure a Court of Appeals (CA) ruling ordering their release, but the House leadership has refused to recognize this. 

Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez and Fariñas argue that the CA justices have no jurisdiction over the constitutionally mandated powers of Congress to cite in contempt uncooperative resource persons.

Fariñas then questioned why Marcos is "afraid" to testify during the probe. The Majority Leader said he plans to hold a separate press conference soon.

"Initially, if what she is saying are true, why is she afraid to appear and state them under oath in the House inquiry? Why has she ordered her 6 subordinates not to remember the 3 transactions subject of the inquiry? Finally, if the 3 transactions were all legal, why do they continue to invoke their right against self-incrimination?" asked Fariñas.

Marcos' response vs what documents are saying

According to Marcos, several Commission on Audit (COA) reports did not mention any misuse of tobacco funds in 2011 and 2012. 

She also said the COA Audit Observation Memorandum (AOM) – which ordered her to explain why cash advances were used to buy the buses and mini-trucks – that was given to the House panel was unsigned by her. Marcos said this means she never received the AOM.

"Maraming sinasabi na bakit daw cash advance. Ang [paggamit ng] cash advance ay hindi ibig sabihin kinuha mo na, binulsa mo na…. Alam naman natin na nasa batas 'yan, na recognized mode of payment [for] specific items 'yan. At higit sa lahat, fully liquidated 'yan," argued Marcos.

(Many are asking why we used cash advances. Using cash advances does not mean you will automatically steal the money... We know this is a recognized mode of payment for specific items. More importantly, the cash advances are all fully liquidated.) 

She failed to mention that local government units (LGUs) are only allowed to use cash advances for salaries and wages, commutable allowances, honoraria, and other similar payments to officials and employees, and other petty operating expenses.  

These are indicated under COA Circular 92-382, which states that all disbursements by LGUs should be done through checks, except in certain cases.

The document, issued on July 3, 1992, details the rules and regulations on accounting and auditing, pursuant to the Local Government Code of 1991. 

Marcos also maintained the 3 transactions went through bidding conferences.  

"Sabi walang bidding. Maliwanag na ang bidding [at dapat] sina [bids and awards committee chairperson] Peter Agcaoili [ang magpapaliwanag, pero] hindi hinayaang magsalita. Magbubukas pa lang ng bibig ay talaga namang sinusupalpal naman at tinatakot," said the governor.

(They said there was no bidding. It's clear there was a bidding and bids and awards committee chairperson Peter Agcaoili was supposed to explain, but they did not let him speak. He was just about to open his mouth and yet they were intimidating him already.)

Agcaoili is among the 6 detained Ilocos Norte officials at the House.

Documents from both COA and the Philippine Government Electronic Procurement System (Philgeps) do indicate that bidding processes were made for the secondhand buses worth P15.3 million and the mini-trucks worth P32.55 million.

But the same documents also showed Marcos authorized the release of money ahead of the completion of the bidding processes for the motor vehicles. 

As for the 40 mini-cabs worth P18.6 million, Philgeps Deputy Executive Director Maria Rosa Clemente previously told lawmakers they have no record of the bidding process for it in their system.

Marcos willing to attend probe, but….

The governor reiterated she is willing to attend the House hearing on July 25, but local officials as well as her brother, defeated vice presidential bet Ferdinand Marcos Jr, advised her against it.

"I want to cooperate. I want to talk. I want to tell our story sapagkat wala tayong tinatago. Pero sila, sabi 'wag ka na pumunta kasi iipitin ka... Hindi kasi pantay ang laban sa Kongreso (Because we're not hiding anything. But they're saying I shouldn't go... The fight is not fair in Congress)," said Marcos. 

"Kung sino nag-akusa sa 'yo siya pa rin ang magsisiyasat. Siya pa rin ang maghahatol being judge. Sa huli, tulad ng detention ng 'Ilocos 6,' siya pa rin ang mag-uutos na ikulong ... Sana bigyan tayo ng fair hearing," she added.

(The person who accused you will be the same person who will scrutinize you. He will be the one to judge you as well. In the end, like the "Ilocos 6," he will be the one to order your detention... I hope they will give us a fair hearing.) – Rappler.com

Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda writes about politics and women’s rights for Rappler. She covers the Senate and the Office of the Vice President. Got tips? Send her an email at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or shoot her a tweet @maracepeda.

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