House tobacco funds probe ‘ironic, unkind,’ says Imee Marcos

MANILA, Philippines – Ilocos Norte Governor Imee Marcos maintained there was no irregularity in her decision to spend P66.45 million in tobacco funds to purchase motor vehicles.

Marcos wrote a letter addressed to House good government and public accountability chairperson Johnny Pimentel as the panel resumed its probe into the alleged misuse of Ilocos Norte’s tobacco funds on Tuesday, May 16. 

The committee had invited Marcos to attend the investigation, but Vice Governor Eugenio Barba said she could not attend because Marcos is on medical leave due to shingles.  

Barba wanted to read Marcos’ letter to the committee during the hearing, but Majority Leader and Ilocos Norte Representative Rodolfo Fariñas said this is not allowed because Marcos did not testify under oath before the committee. Barba then gave copies of Marcos’ letter to House reporters after the hearing.

In her letter, Marcos argued that buying the motor vehicles through Ilocos Norte’s tobacco funds was meant to respond to farmers’ “need for transport to increase productivity, market produce, and facilitate access to livelihood and training projects” as mandated by Republic Act (RA) Number 7171.

Under RA 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.

According to Marcos, tobacco farmers have made “numerous” requests for the purchase of vehicles and equipment they can use for work. 

“I, therefore, find it ironic and most unkind to our tobacco farmers that House Resolution (HR) No 882 declares misuse of of the tobacco excise tax collection of the province of Ilocos Norte when the purchases being derided respond squarely to dire needs and actual demands of tobacco farmers so they can improve their plight,” said Marcos. 

She said the Ilocos Norte farmers are the ones in the “best position” to determine what they need from the government. 

“Similarly, unfounded claims of irregularities purvey misinformation to the public that is most unfair and unkind to officials of the provincial government of Ilocos Norte,” Marcos added.

Marcos, former Ilocos Norte 2nd District representative, said the House panel should also invite local officials from Abra, Ilocos Sur, and La Union because RA 7171 covers them as well.

The good government and public accountability panel will once again write a letter inviting Marcos to attend the next hearing.

The panel already moved to cite for contempt 7 Ilocos Norte officials for failing to appear during the probe on Tuesday despite a subpoena.

The probe stemmed from HR 882 filed by Fariñas and his two Deputy Majority Leaders –  Pampanga 3rd District Representative Aurelio Gonzales Jr and Pampanga 4th District Representative Juan Pablo Bondoc.

Fariñas had uncovered purchase requests, requests for obligation, disbursement vouchers, and checks amounting to P66,450,000 in tobacco funds that were used by the Ilocos Norte provincial government to buy the following motor vehicles:

Fariñas said barangay captains in his district have complained they received motor vehicles from the provincial government that did not have the necessary documents, forcing them to pay for fuel and other fees out of their own pockets. 

Since 1998, the Fariñas and Marcos families have either been allies or rivals in Ilocos Norte after the Marcoses returned to the province when patriarch and late dictator Ferdinand Marcos died in exile in 1989.

In 2015, the Marcoses cut ties with Fariñas and dropped him from their "One Ilocos Norte" ticket. –Rappler.com

Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda writes about politics and women’s rights for Rappler. She covers the House of Representatives and the Office of the Vice President. Got tips? Send her an email at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or shoot her a tweet @maracepeda.

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