House summons Marcos over fund ‘misuse’; 6 capitol workers detained

>> Thursday, June 8, 2017

By Mizpah Grace G. Castro

LAOAG CITY -- Ilocos Norte -- A committee of the House of Representatives has summoned Ilocos Norte Gov. Imee Marcos to its hearings on the alleged misuse of tobacco funds.
This, as a petition for the issuance of a writ of habeas corpus was filed at the Court of Appeals by legal counsels of six employees of the provincial government of Ilocos Norte ordered detained by Rep. Rodolfo "Rudy" C. Fariñas on May 29 due to the issue.
The committee on good government and public accountability headed by Surigao del Sur Rep. Johnny Pimentel  issued the subpoena after Marcos failed to attend the hearing again Wednesday. 
The House panel earlier cited in contempt eight officials of the provincial government for allegedly snubbing its investigation.
Three of the officials – Josephine Calajate, Encarnacion Gaor and Genedine Jambaro of the treasurer’s office – were detained.  
Vicente Lazo, a member of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan, told the committee Marcos was on sick leave.
He said he brought Marcos’ letter explaining her absence, but committee members did not allow him to read it. 
“It will pollute and contaminate our records because it’s not under oath and you know that,” said House Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas. “We cannot have testimonies here which are not under oath.”
Fariñas sought the inquiry as he accused Marcos of authorizing the purchase of 115 assorted motor vehicles in 2011 and 2012 without public biddings.
He said Marcos was both the requesting and approving officer, adding that the amount was released to two disbursing officers in the form of cash advances in violation of the Government Procurement Reform Act.
In turn, Marcos accused Fariñas of politicking and branded his allegations as “unfair and unwarranted.”
This, as Lawyer Da Vinci Crisostomo, a member of Ilocos Norte's Sangguniang Panlalawigan, said their petition was a request to the sergeant-at-arms of the House of Representatives to bring the six detainees to the court and explain there the basis of their detainment.
"Citing them in contempt and issuing a detainment order was not right," said Crisostomo, "Isang ground for contempt ay 'refusal to answer any question,' pero nakita naman namin sa transcript at narinig naman namin na lahat ng tinanong sa kanila ay sinagot."
The detained employees acted as resource persons for the congressional inquiry into PGIN's purchase of motor vehicles amounting to P66.55 million sourced from the province's share of the Tobacco Excise Tax, or Republic Act 7171.
These vehicles had been distributed to barangay captains for use of tobacco farmers and other agricultural processes as a post-harvest facility, such as in transporting produce from farms to markets.
Fariñas said the purchase was anomalous and cited them in contempt and motioned for their detainment for "refusing to answer questions" he asked regarding purchases based on photocopied documents.
They had asked to see the original documents, which had been submitted from corresponding capitol offices to the Commission on Audit.
SP member Vicentito Lazo, a lawyer, said "Itong mga empleyado natin, hindi naman nilang sinabi na, 'I refuse to answer, Your Honor.' Ang sinabi nila, 'Photocopy kasi 'yan. Kung makikita namin ang orihinal, masasagot namin ang tanong ninyo.'
"Pero sinabi ni Congressman Fariñas na nawala ang orihinal, at sinabi pa niya na ang Kapitolyo ang nakawala nito," Lazo added, "nawala ito sa mismong COA office."
The six PGIN employees, including department heads, are currently detained under conditions Lazo has likened to that of the Maute Group under Mindanao's martial law.
SP member Domingo Ambrosio added guards had tried to keep family members from visiting the employees' detention room until Lazo had made written explanations.
"Hindi dapat ganyan, kasi hindi naman ito bilangguan. Hindi naman sila naakusahan o napatunayang may sala," said Lazo.
The legal counsels said some of the detainees are in need of constant medical attention for diabetes, hypertension, and other heart conditions.
"Parang hindi lang sa Mindanao ang martial law, pati yata dito sa Kongreso," says Atty. Vicentito Lazo, the legal counsel of the employees detained at the House of Representatives.
Congressman Rodolfo "Rudy" Faridñas launched an inquiry earlier this month through the committee on good government and public accountability of the House of Representatives, Resolution No. 882., examining the provincial government of Ilocos Norte's purchase of the motor vehicles.
As resource persons and being under oath, the employees asked for the original documents to verify the authenticity of papers pertaining to the vehicle purchases. However, these could no longer be found at the Commission on Audit who received them from corresponding Capitol offices.
Atty. Da Vinci Crisostomo also clarified that "Mayroon silang hindi masagot dahil ang mga tanong ay nakabase lamang sa mga photocopied na dokumento. Iyan ang naging dahilan kung bakit sila pina-contempt ni Congressman dahil hindi niya makuha sa kanila ang mga gusto niyang sagot.
"Paano 'yan, iyong mga inimbitahan ang magbibigay ng ebidensiyang gagamitin laban din sa kanila?"
Crisostomo and Lazo, both members of the Ilocos Norte Provincial Board, stood as legal counsels at the hearing for the six detainees.
"They are not supposed to be detained," Lazo said, describing their condition in detention as similar to that of the Maute Group under Mindanao's martial law.
"May mga guwardiya na nagbabantay sa loob. Lahat ng pinag-uusapan nila, pati na rin ako bilang abogado na confidential sana, nalalaman nila dahil naroon nga sila sa loob… Kahit gagamit lang ng palikuran, mayroon pa ring sumusunod sa kanila na guwardiya.
"Nakaka-awa, pero pinagtatawanan na lang nila to lighten the situation," he added, saying that despite the detainees' current situation, "there is no basis for them to be detained there."
He said, "Hindi ang Provincial Government ang nakawala [ng mga orihinal na dokumento]. Nawala ito sa mismong COA office."

Earlier, Ilocano farmers and barangay captains had defended the provincial government for distributing the motor vehicles purchased, thanking the governor for the help extended to their farming communities. 


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