THE six government employees of Ilocos Norte who were detained at the House of Representatives for refusing to testify on the alleged misuse of the P66 million tobacco fund under the administration of Gov. Imee Marcos have been released.
Ilocos Norte treasurer Josephine Calajate, budget officer Evangeline Tabulog, bids and awards committee head Pedro Agcaoili and Genedine Jambaro, Eden Battulayan and Encarnacion Gaor of the treasurer’s office finally admitted that the Ilocos Norte government purchased motor vehicles using the P66-million tobacco fund without public bidding and in cash advances.
The employees, who were dubbed by media as the “Ilocos 6,” admitted making the transactions on Tuesday, the same day that Marcos testified at the House that all transactions were above board because the Commission on Audit (COA) never issued a notice of disallowance or suspension on the purchases of the motor vehicles.
“I am just happy today that the Ilocos 6 were released.
They have missed a lot. Their families, birthdays of love ones,” Marcos told reporters.
“There’s no anomaly. There’s no corruption [in the usage of tobacco fund],” she added.
Marcos hugged each of the employees after the House Committee on Good Government and Public Accountability adopted the motion to issue the order of release made by Rep. Rodolfo Fariñas of Ilocos Norte.
It was Fariñas who sought investigation on the alleged misuse of the P66-million tobacco fund.
Under Republic Act 7171 or the “Act to Promote the Development of the Farmer in the Virginia Tobacco Producing Provinces,” tobacco funds should only be spent on cooperative, livelihood, agro-industrial and infrastructure projects such as farm-to-market roads.
COA Memorandum 97-002 does not allow cash advances to purchase motor vehicles. Cash advances are generally limited to operating expenses and payroll.
Marcos retracts bribery claim
Marcos apologized over her claims that the Liberal Party (LP) rolled out P100 million to ensure that she would be detained.
“I withdraw the accusation…That is not true. I apologize if the members of Congress were harmed,” she said.
Deputy Speaker Romero Quimbo of Marikina, the highest-ranking LP official in the House of Representatives, accepted the apology but warned Marcos not to resort to peddling false claims again.
However, Sen. Franklin Drilon said the LP will demand a public apology from Marcos.
“We demand an apology from Imee Marcos,” Drilon said. The other LP senators are Paolo Benigno Aquino 4th, Ralph Recto, and Francis Pangilinan.
Simultaneous with release from detention of the Ilocos 6, the Supreme Court (SC) on Tuesday ordered the House of Representatives to comment within 10 days on the petition of Marcos pleading for their release from the House.
But with the supervening event of their release from detention, the ruling will be moot.
Rep. Johnny Pimentel of Surigao del Sur, head of the House committee, clarified that the release of the Ilocos 6 did not absolve them and Marcos of any liability in connection with the use of tobacco funds for the purchase of motor vehicles.
Pimentel has scheduled another hearing on August 9.
“Governor Marcos will still be called to the hearings because she approved these transactions. Likewise, let me make it clear that the release of the six provincial government officials does not preclude them from attending succeeding hearings,” Pimentel said in a news conference.