Cagayan

Probe? Politics? Why Congress is detaining Cagayan officials

Joann Manabat

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Probe? Politics? Why Congress is detaining Cagayan officials

'CONTEMPT'. The House committees on public accounts and on suffrage and electoral reforms issue a detention order against Cagayan Governor Manuel Mamba during the joint hearing on August 17, 2023.

Joann Manabat/Rappler

The latest to be ordered arrested is Governor Manuel Mamba, whom Representative Joseph Lara wants investigated over fund disbursements. Lara’s wife lost to Mamba in the 2022 polls.

MANILA, Philippines – The House committees on public accounts and on suffrage and electoral reforms on Thursday, August 17, issued a detention order against Cagayan Governor Manuel Mamba, who didn’t attend the hearing and who was accused of also preventing capitol personnel from attending.

Once taken in, the governor would be detained at the House of Representatives in Quezon City for 10 days. 

Mamba is the latest provincial official to be held in contempt by the two committees conducting a joint investigation into alleged public fund disbursements during the campaign in 2022. The resolutions seeking the probe were filed by Cagayan 3rd District Representative Joseph Lara, whose wife Zara lost to Mamba in the gubernatorial race. (Check out Rappler’s 2022 Election Results page for Cagayan.)

Provincial information office head Rogelio Sending was also cited in contempt for ignoring summons without any legal excuse. He would be detained for 30 days.

Before this, provincial administrator Ma. Rosario Mamba Villaflor, the governor’s niece, was detained by the House starting August 9, having been cited in contempt for her “interference”– that is, for allegedly preventing other officials from attending earlier hearings. The detention order against her was lifted on Thursday.

Why are Cagayan officials being called to hearings?

Congressman Lara filed House Resolutions 145 and 146, seeking to investigate the disbursement of P300 million in provincial funds for various programs and projects during election ban in 2022. Mamba was then running for reelection against Lara’s wife Zara.

“They gave away P1,000 each but only to those 18 years old and above who were also registered voters. There is evidence to prove that. It’s vote buying that is being disguised as financial assistance,” Lara told Rappler on Thursday. 

“He was announcing over the radio days before the election that each voter would receive that [even] without the approved ordinance or budget to that effect. More than that, he doesn’t have an approved exemption [from the ban]. It was mentioned by no less than the Comelec that Mamba wasn’t issued any exemption,” he added. 

In December 2022, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) 2nd Division, acting on a petition filed by Zara, disqualified Mamba for violating a 45-day ban on the disbursement of public funds during the 2022 campaign period. 

However, in March 2023, the Comelec en banc reversed the decision of its 2nd Division over jurisdiction. 

Including the hearing on August 17, there have been five hearings conducted on Lara’s resolutions: May 23 and 31, and August 7 and 9. Thursday’s hearing was presided by Abang Lingkod Partylist Representative Joseph Stephen Paduano and Bukidnon 2nd District Representative Jonathan Keith Flores, who cited Mamba in contempt for “undue interference.”

Lara denied that his resolutions were politically motivated. “This is in aid of legislation. What laws can be crafted to prevent public funds from being used [in campaigning]? Because if Mamba gets away with this, then politicians from other places will copy him,” he said in Filipino. 

Probe? Politics? Why Congress is detaining Cagayan officials
Why have Cagayan officials not attended hearings?

The House committees held provincial administrator Villaflor in contempt for allegedly not signing the travel order for 10 department heads of the province – namely, Vita Vergara, Catalino Arugay, Maritel Bautista, Kristine Reyes, Ma. Anita Obispo, Amelia Manalo, Rosario Mandac, Heracleo Dumapal, Roselle Buncad, Daisy Baguisi – and their lawyer Rogelio Taliping to attend the hearings in Quezon City. 

Mamba told Rappler on August 11 that they had asked for a postponement of the hearings because Cagayan was under a state of calamity after being battered by typhoons. Damage to agriculture, livestock, and infrastructure in Cagayan was estimated at more than P1.4 billion. 

“We had an excuse letter to them (committees). The next day, while we were in the thick of calamity response here, they were asking why the department heads were not given travel orders. I said, how could we leave? The President was here earlier, we’re under a state of calamity. Were we expected to leave this behind?” Mamba said in Filipino. 

Until now, he said, all offices in their provinces are doing relief operations.

Mamba also said Villaflor should not have been blamed for not signing travel orders because she didn’t have the authority to do so. It’s the governor who signs such orders. 

As for the contempt citation against him, Mamba said: “I intend to know what is the basis of the contempt order. I attended only one hearing, where they excused me because of the sub-judice nature of the inquiry, with complaints against me [pending before] the Comelec, Supreme Court, and even the Ombudsman.” – Rappler.com

Probe? Politics? Why Congress is detaining Cagayan officials

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