House recommends raps vs. Ilocos Norte execs for tobacco fund misuse

MANILA — The House committee on good government and public accountability has recommended the filing of administrative and criminal charges against Ilocos Norte government officials, who are suspected to have been involved in the alleged misuse of the province’s tobacco excise tax collection share.

In a committee report released Thursday, the panel said the purchase of motor vehicles worth PHP66.45 million by the provincial government of Ilocos Norte (PGIN) was “highly irregular” and “illegal” for violating existing laws, including the provisions of Republic Act 7171 (An Act to Promote the Development of the Farmer in the Virginia Tobacco Producing Provinces), RA 9184 (Government Procurement Reform Act), RA 7160 (Local Government Code), and a Commission on Audit circular, which does not allow the purchase of motor vehicles using cash advances.

The panel said the PGIN officials involved in the highly irregular procurement could also be held liable for violation of the Revised Penal Code and the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.

The report, however, did not specify the names of government officials to be charged. The irregular purchase of motor vehicles using the province’s tobacco excise tax share was made under the administration of incumbent Governor Imee Marcos.

“The PGIN and its officials and employees involved in the highly irregular and illegal procurement of the subject motor vehicles committed malfeasance, misfeasance, and non-feasance,” the report said.

The committee report has already been approved at the House plenary and has been forwarded to the Office of the Ombudsman, the Commission on Audit, the Department of Justice, and other relevant agencies for their appropriate action.

The panel also said private individuals, including Marcos’ long-time partner, Mark Chua, are equally liable for having conspired with provincial government officials “to perpetuate the irregularities” in the procurement of motor vehicles.

Chua was responsible for the purchase of motor vehicles from Granstar Motors and Industrial Corporation.

It noted that the 110 Foton minicabs purchased by the PGIN were overpriced by PHP21.45 million.

The panel said Chua bought the vehicles from Granstar Motors for PHP270,000 per unit and then sold the vehicles to the provincial government for PHP465,000 per unit, indicating an overprice of PHP195,000 per unit.

Apart from the filing of charges, the panel also recommended the creation of a task force by the Department of Budget and Management to monitor and prevent the abuse of RA 7171.

Last year, the committee conducted a legislative inquiry through House Resolution 882, principally authored by Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas, on the use by the PGIN of its shares from the excise tax collection on tobacco for a purpose other than those provided for by Republic Act 7171.