House panel considers plunder charges vs Imee Marcos


MANILA, Philippines – Even as the probe into the alleged misuse and abuse of Ilocos Norte tobacco funds continued, the legislator overseeing the investigation said it “might” eventually lead to a plunder case against officials involved, including Ilocos Norte Governor Imee Marcos.

“It might because as the hearing progresses we have uncovered, as I’ve said many transactions,” Surigao del Sur 2nd District Representative Johnny Pimentel said during a press briefing on Monday, October 9.

“We might consider in the Committee Report filing a plunder complaint against the culpable officers of  province of Ilocos Norte,” he added. (READ: Ilocos Norte’s tobacco funds go to Imee Marcos' pet projects)

Pimentel chairs the committee on good governance and public accountability which has, since mid-2017, conducted a probe into the allegedly anomalous purchase of vehicles by the province using tobacco funds, and without the benefit of public bidding.

The probe has also uncovered the use of cash advances in these purchases, a violation of Commission on Audit (COA) rules. The House investigation has since covered other allegedly anomalous deals as well, including whether the funds really benefited tobacco farmers and other alleged anomalous transactions by the province.

Marcos and other Ilocos Norte officials have insisted that there is nothing anomalous in their practices, an argument legislators, including Pimentel have dismissed. The probe was prompted by a resolution filed by Ilocos Norte 1st District Representative and House Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas.

More recent hearings have also uncovered that the vehicles were purchased through Mark Chua, Marcos’ long-time boyfriend.

Fabian Go, the distributor of the motor vehicles, said he did not know they would end up in government hands. There was a huge differences in the vehicle prices between Go’s selling price and the official acquisition price declared by the provincial government.

During the October 9 committee hearing, heritage expert Eric Zerrudo said he signed up for work on the Paoay museum, fully thinking it was a family and not a government project.

Pimentel said that although it was not Marcos who got the cash advances, she is still the “most responsible person” in the transactions. “All the transactions bear the signature of Governor Imee Marcos, all the transactions, the contract, the vouchers, and the memorandum of agreement, bear the signature of Imee Marcos,” he added.

Marcos had initially refused to show up before the House committee, until it threatened to detain her for the continued defiance. The panel is now looking for Chua, who had apparently left the country in July 2017.

Although the committee terminated its probe into the purchase of the motor vehicles, it will continue probing other issues linked to the tobacco funds and the province. –