It seems that an inquiry at the House of Representatives on the alleged misuse of tobacco excise tax in Ilocos Norte is turning into a political battle between former allies.
The two protagonists, Ilocos Norte Governor Imee Marcos and Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas, now find themselves on opposite sides of the fence after a falling out in 2015 due to political differences.
Fariñas, along with Representatives Juan Pablo Bondoc and Johnny Pimentel, authored House Resolution No. 882 that sought an investigation on the alleged misuse by Ilocos Norte government officials of the province’s tobacco excise tax collection share.
The resolution branded as “highly irregular and a blatant violation of laws” the decision of the Ilocos Norte provincial government to purchase motor vehicles amounting to P66.45 million made through cash advances using the province’s share of excise tax from Virginia-type cigarettes covered by Republic Act No. 7171 (An Act to Promote the Development of the Farmers in the Virginia Tobacco-Producing Provinces).
The lawmakers said the purchase violated the provisions of RA 7171, RA 9184 (Government Procurement Reform Act) and Presidential Decree 1445 (Government Auditing Code of the Philippines).
Based on RA 7171, the 15 percent share of Virginia tobacco producing provinces shall be utilized to advance the self-reliance of the tobacco farmers through cooperative, livelihood, agro-industrial and infrastructure projects to benefit the region and the stakeholders.
But in a hearing on Tuesday, May 16, seven Ilocos Norte officials, including Marcos, were absent, prompting the House committee on good government and public accountability to cite them in contempt.
Marcos, who was represented by Vice Governor Eugenio Angelo Barba, was absent due to a skin infection.
In a statement read by Barba, Marcos said there was nothing irregular in the acquisition of vehicles intended for the tobacco farmers.
Marcos, a former lawmaker, also took exception to the use of the words “misuse” and “irregular,” saying these “tend to convey bias and oppression . . . which renders the inquiry vulnerable to allegations of abuse of authority, and even political persecution, or at the very least, propelled by interests other than greater public interest.”
“It is in this spirit of fairness that I sincerely request the committee on good government and accountability to address the legitimate concerns, so that the integrity of the proceedings and the legislature itself – of which I was a member for 12 years – is not diminished by a haphazard and unconstitutional exercise of congressional authority,” Marcos said
In her letter, Marcos said that the purchase of the vehicles complied with all applicable laws and mandated government procurement and bidding procedures, and duly authorized by the Sangguniang Panlalawigan.
The purchases also underwent proper audit and post-audit examinations by the Commission on Audit, which found no irregularities in the transaction, Marcos said.
Marcos and Fariñas used to be allies under what was envisioned as the One Ilocos Norte bloc.
In 2015, they cut ties due to political differences. Both officials are in their last term in their respective offices and will serve only until 2019.