House summons Imee Marcos to tobacco funds probe
MANILA, Philippines (3rd UPDATE) – A House committee is issuing a subpoena against Ilocos Norte Governor Imee Marcos ordering her to appear at the probe into the alleged misuse of her province's tobacco funds.
On Monday, May 29, the House committee on good government and public accountability held the 3rd day of its probe into the use of Ilocos Norte's tobacco excise tax shares for the purchase of motor vehicles worth P66.45 million.
Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas moved to subpoena Marcos to attend the investigation after snubbing the last two hearings. The motion was unanimously approved by the rest of the committee members.
If Marcos fails to attend the next hearing, the House will move to cite her in contempt and arrest her to force her to testify before lawmakers.
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 usage of its tobacco funds.
Ilocos Norte officials detained
The House committee also approved Fariñas' motion to detain 6 Ilocos Norte officials from the provincial treasurer's office – Genedine Jambaro, Encarnacion Gaor, Eden Battulayan, as well as provincial treasurer Josephine Calajate, provincial planning and development office chairperson Pedro Agcaoili, and provincial budget officer Evangeline Tabulog – for giving "dismissive" answers during Monday's hearing.
Fariñas had asked Jambaro and Gaor if they remember signing purchase requests for the buses and mini-cabs, respectively.
But both officials said they could no longer remember because they have processed a lot of transactions in the provincial treasurer's office over the years.
During the hearing, Fariñas even flashed a copy of the cash advance bearing Jambaro's signature and asked if she remembers signing such a document.
Jambaro replied: "Your honor, 'di ko na talagang maalala sa dami ng transactions sa amin (Your honor, I really can't remember because of the number of transactions we have)."
Gaor gave a similar answer when Fariñas asked her if she signed a cash advance for the purchase of mini-cabs.
"That was the exact same testimony given by [Jambaro]... Walang maniniwala sa 'yo (No one will believe you)," said a laughing Fariñas.
He then moved to have the two officials, as well as Battulayan, Calajate, Agcaoili, and Tabulog, detained by the House until they cooperate with the committee.
Jambaro and Gaor were emotional as they were escorted by the House secretariat to their detention rooms.