House panel seeks charges vs officials linked to Ilocos tobacco fund mess

RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jul 05 2018 07:04 PM

Ilocos Norte Capitol. ABS-CBN News file photo

MANILA- The House Committee on Good Government and Public Accountability has recommended the filing of charges against local government officials of Ilocos Norte over the alleged misuse of tobacco excise taxes.

Criminal and administrative charges were recommended to be filed against the province's officials as the House panel wrapped up its investigation.

The inquiry last year focused on the alleged irregular purchase of vehicles by the provincial government from tobacco excise tax.

The panel said the purchase of vehicles by the provincial government “was highly irregular and illegal for having violated existing laws, rules regulations.”

The Ilocos Norte provincial government supposedly violated Republic Act 7171 which provides for the usage of the tobacco excise tax; the Government Procurement Reform Act; and the Local Government Code.

Lawmakers added that the purchased vehicles were not registered with the Land Transportation Office.

A total of 110 Foton minicabs bought by the provincial government were also found to be overpriced by P21.45 million, lawmakers said.

The panel said the vehicles, which were sold by businessman and Marcos' longtime partner Mark Chua for P465,000 each, were only bought for P270,000 apiece, making each vehicle overpriced by P195,000.

Ilocos Norte officials and employees involved in the procurement of the vehicles were also accused by the panel of misfeasance, and non-feasance. 

The panel said the officials may be charged with graft along with Chua, his secretary Irene Mendoza, and Gilbert Suribas, an official of Granstar Motors where some of the vehicles were bought from.

A review of Republic Act 7171 was sought by the committee as well as the drafting of legislation that will prevent abuse in the utilization of tobacco funds. 

It can be recalled that House Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas, who represents the province’s first district, initiated the investigation against Ilocos Norte Governor Imee Marcos last year amid rumors that their families will compete for dominance in local politics.

In 2019, Marcos and Fariñas will be constitutionally barred from seeking re-election in their current offices.

This leaves them to pursue other positions or members of their families to pursue their current positions.

Fariñas' daughter Ria, and Marcos’ son Matthew are incumbent provincial board members and rumored to be possible gubernatorial candidates.