Ilocos Norte Governor hales rival Fariñas, Pimentel to SC; committee chair asserts provincial gov’t had violated several laws
(UPDATE) MANILA- It’s local politics dragged into the halls of Congress.
A fighting Ilocos Norte Gov. Imee Marcos said this Thursday as she defended her capitol, pressing for the release of six provincial officers detained at the House of Representatives and seeking to stop a legislative inquiry “in aid of political persecution” on her tobacco excise tax disbursements.
Surrounded by red-clad supporters, including local officials, Marcos faced the media in Manila as her lawyers filed before the Supreme Court an omnibus petition seeking liberty for her employees, an order “enjoining and prohibiting” the conduct of the House investigation, and the issuance of the writ of amparo or protection.
“Incarcerating my poor, old, defenseless employees in order to force them to testify against me and against the province is not only illegal, cruel and evil, it is also cowardly,” Marcos said in a press conference Thursday afternoon.
“Please, Congress, free the “Ilocos Six,” and if this is truly the ‘Game of Thrones,’ please be warned today: the North remembers and it never forgets,” she said, her tone foreboding.
She said the controversy has distracted Ilocos Norte officials from attending to the province’s affairs.
Marcos and her detained finance officials- Pedro Agcaoili, chair of the provincial bids and awards committee and provincial planning and development officer; Evangeline Tabulog, provincial budget officer; Josephine Calajate, provincial treasurer; Eden Battulayan, provincial accountant; and provincial treasurer’s office staff Genedine Jambaro and Encarnacion Gaor- acted as petitioners in the plea.
Impleaded were House Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas, Marcos’ rival, Surigao del Sur Rep. Johnny Pimentel, chair of the Committee on Good Government and Public Accountability, and Lt. Gen. Roland Detabali, the House Sergeant-at-Arms.
“If there is terrorism in Marawi, there is a hostage crisis in Congress, where the province of Ilocos Norte is held hostage,” Marcos said.
“We all know this is local politics. Kinaladkad sa Kongreso at inapi ang mga walang kalaban-laban na empleyado,” she said.
Marcos, daughter of the late strongman Ferdinand Marcos whose family still commands a loyal following in the north, traced the controversy to an early “jockeying” for local positions in her province, where the Fariñas family has a stake.
Marcos filed the petition just as the chamber girded for the opening of the regular session on July 24, after which the House committee is expected to readily resume its inquiry on the alleged misuse of the provincial government’s P66.4-million disbursements from its tobacco excise tax shares in 2011.
On Fariñas’ move, the House accountability body is in the middle of an investigation of the Ilocos Norte government’s acquisition of vehicles without public bidding. The six local officials were detained on May 29 after they refused to respond to questions at the hearing.
The House has continued to hold the six despite a Court of Appeals (CA) order for the legislature to release them. This has triggered a showdown between the two co-equal branches, with the chamber issuing a show-cause order against justices who ordered the officials’ release.
Most recently, House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez said he was eyeing an impeachment case against Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno for calling on the chamber to recall the show cause order against CA magistrates.
The House has also threatened to detain Marcos if she fails to appear at the resumption of the probe.
Marcos has maintained that the transactions were aboveboard, asserting that the capitol’s annual expense reports were always cleared by the Commission on Audit.
“Kwentas klaras, wala kaming natanggap na ano mang masamang findings doon sa mga transaksiyon namin ng mga taon (2011) na ‘yan hanggang ngayon…Mismong COA na ang nagsabi na maayos ang pamamalakad sa pondo,” Marcos said.
In the petition, Marcos and the Ilocos Six described the House inquiry as a “perversion” of the legislative power to investigate.
“Without a doubt, the respondents have made a mockery of the Constitution. Considering all the foregoing, the inquiry… has been purged of legitimacy and is unconstitutional,” the petition read.
It said the officials’ indefinite detention had violated their rights.
The petitioners also questioned Fariñas’ participation in the inquiry even as he stands as Marcos’ chief accuser.
“Hindi patas ang laban sa Kongreso. Kung sino ang nag-aakusa, siya mag-iimbestiga, siya pa rin ang magkukulong,” Marcos said at the presser.
PIMENTEL: ‘MARCOS CLEARLY LYING’
Reached for comment, Pimentel asserted that the transaction was anomalous as the vehicles were purchased without public bidding and through a cash advance instead, contrary to what is required under the law.
The lawmaker added that the vehicles, acquired using tobacco excise taxes supposed to be strictly for tobacco farmers, are being used by barangay officials.
“She is clearly lying. We have all the evidence to prove that the transaction did not pass through competitive bidding,” Pimentel told ABS-CBN News.
“If she thinks she’s really innocent, why is she so afraid to appear in the hearing? Is it because she’s hiding something? Is she afraid of something?,” said the lawmaker.
In a statement, Fariñas had the same question.
"Initially, if what she is saying are true, why is she afraid to appear and state them under oath in the House inquiry? Why has she ordered her six subordinates not to remember the three transactions subject of the inquiry? Finally, if the three transactions were all legal, why do they continue to invoke their right against self-incrimination?" he said.
He said it was "incomprehensible" why the six detained officials continued to stay mum about the transactions.
"They claim that the transactions are legal but refuse to talk about them unless they are shown the original documents that have mysteriously disappeared in the Capitol," Fariñas said.
"Are they all afraid to be eventually asked and reveal who actually received and kept the P66.45M in cash?," he added.
Fariñas said he would soon give his full rebuttal in a "counter press conference."
Marcos meanwhile said she “would like” to participate in the investigation but has yet to make up her mind given contrary advice from her supporters.