House, CA collide over 6 Ilocos execs’ detention

>> Friday, June 16, 2017

LAOAG CITY, Ilocos Norte -- Six officials of the Ilocos Norte provincial government detained at the House of Representatives Thursday sought the help of the Court of Appeals for their freedom.
Through their lawyer former solicitor general Estelito Mendoza, the officials asked the fourth division of the appellate court to issue an order to allow them to post bail.
The House ignored the order of the CA to present the officials, who were detained after they were cited in contempt over their “evasive answers” on the provincial government’s alleged misuse of P66 million in tobacco funds.
“The contempt order has been applied to indefinitely detain the petitioners,” Mendoza’s petition read.      
The officials said they were being subjected to “continuous torture” with their indefinite detention, which they described as a blatant violation of their rights, noting they had answered the questions of the congressmen during the hearing.
Gov. Imee Marcos had urged the release of six officials detained by the House of Representatives since May 29 even as the CA and the former are on a collision course over the matter.
A motion for provisional release or release on bail was filed June 6 at the CA by Mendoza.
While the appellate court directed the House to produce the detained officials, the chamber is insisting on its power to continue to hold them for contempt over their “evasive answers” on the provincial government’s alleged misuse of P66 million in tobacco funds.
Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas said Tuesday the House has the right to hold the provincial officers “until they stop their contemptuous act of giving evasive answers, tantamount to refusal to answer.”
“I don’t think any man of sound mind, moreover CA justices, would believe Genedine Jambaro when she stated under oath that she cannot remember receiving cash advances of P32 million and P18 million, and Encarnacion Gaor of P15.3 million to buy 110 minicabs and five buses four years ago,” Fariñas said, referring to the provincial treasurer’s office personnel. 
He said provincial treasurer Josephine Calajate, accountant Edna Battulayan, budget officer Evangeline Tabulog and planning office head Pedro Agcaoili, who requested for the purchase of the vehicles, could not remember if there were such transactions.
It’s not clear when the provincial officials will be released since Congress is on recess and will reconvene on July 24.
Fariñas has accused Gov. Marcos of misusing P66 million in tobacco funds by purchasing vehicles through cash advances, saying it is not allowed under the Government Procurement Law.
Marcos appeared before the CA Monday to support the bid of six provincial officials to be freed.
In an interview prior to the habeas corpus petition hearing, Marcos said the continued detention of the workers violates the law and insinuated that politics may be behind the move.
The Fourth Division of the appellate court issued a writ of habeas corpus June 2 to require House sergeant-at-arms Roland Detabali to present the six petitioners, who have been detained after being cited in contempt by the House committee on good government and public accountability, which is looking into the alleged misuse of P66.45 million in tobacco funds.
It also ordered Detabali to explain why he should not be cited for contempt for failing to comply with the court order.
Detabali again failed to appear at Monday’s hearing at the CA. He also failed to present the six officials – Pedro Agcaoili, provincial planning and development office chairman; Josephine Calajate, provincial treasurer; Evangeline Tabulog, provincial budget officer; and provincial treasurer’s office workers Eden Battulayan, Encarnacion Gaor and Genedine Jambaro.
Their lawyers, led by Mendoza, questioned the detention as they argued it was baseless because the petitioners answered questions during the hearing.
During the House inquiry, Fariñas presented documents that bore signatures of the six officials to authorize the purchase of mini-cabs, secondhand buses and Foton trucks. 
This, as Tobacco farmers in Ilocos Norte held rallies to express their support for the release of detained six employees of the provincial government following third Congressional hearing about the province's use of its Tobacco Excise Tax or Republic Act 7171.
From the Badoc Gateway and throughout other towns along the highway, farmers and other barangay folk met the House of Representatives' North Luzon inspection trip with a rally June 2.
"Release the Ilocos 6!" "Mahalaga sa amin ang multicab na ito," and "Sinusuportahan namin si Gov. Imee Marcos," read some of their placards.
A crowd also waited in front of the provincial capitol.
Minutes before the congressmen arrived, two green buses from Fariñas Transit, the bus line owned by the family of Ilocos Norte 1st District Rep. Rodolfo "Rudy" Fariñas, parked in front of the Capitol and blocked view of the protesters.
Punong Barangay Joseph Palafox from Badoc and Rogelio Ceredon, president of the Dingras Municipal Agriculture and Fisheries Council, said they were supporting the provincial government as the equipment purchased from the tobacco tax was helping farmers and residents.
The "Ilocos 6" include members of the local finance committee, whose approval is needed to authorize releasing of funds essential to day-to-day affairs of the Capitol.
According to the employees’ lawyers, the detention of the former was  illegal since they did answer the committee's and Fariñas questions, thus committing no contempt. “Rather, "what is apparent from the questions raised… is that they sought not to elicit information, but to confirm admission of matters which they already concluded as fact.”
Meanwhile, beneficiaries of capitol programs lamented delay of funds such as salaries and subsidies for supplies since signatures of the six detainees were required.
According to a barangay ranger officer, they are in dire need of their salaries with the onset of the rainy season and the start of classes.

Employees of the Capitol have also expressed their worry about the flow of other transactions and releasing of other projects and funds needed by beneficiaries.


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