Ilocos guv, 6 others seek SC to stop HoR probe on tobacco funds


MANILA, Philippines — Ilocos Norte Governor Imee R. Marcos and six provincial officials detained at the House of Representatives on Thursday filed a petition before the Supreme Court (SC) to stop the House Committee on Good Government and Public Accountability in its investigation on the alleged misuse of PHP66.45 million tobacco funds to buy motor vehicles.

In a 67-page omnibus petition, the petitioners asked the high court to issue a temporary restraining order (TRO) stopping the investigation of the House committee and also asked SC to order the release of the six provincial officials and assume jurisdiction on the writ of habeas corpus case pending before the Court of Appeals (CA), who earlier ordered for their release but was ignored by the House body.

Aside from this, the petitioners asked the Court to issue a writ of amparo against the said House Committee in order “to protect the actual and threatened violations and infringement of their constitutionally-guaranteed rights to liberty and security of person.”

Aside from Marcos, the petitioners were the so called Ilocos 6 — Pedro S. Agcaoili Jr., Encarnacion A. Gaor, Josephine P. Calajate, Genedine D. Jambaro, Eden C. Battulayan and Evangeline C. Tabulog

In seeking to stop the House probe on the use of the province’s tobacco funds, the petitioners cited the absence of preliminary determination on the propriety of the subject of legislative inquiry before the House committee on rules, and determination on jurisdiction by the investigating committee in violation of the requirements under Section 21, Article VI of the 1987 Constitution.

“The legislative inquiry has been purged of any legitimacy when the respondents blatantly violated basically everything that is legal — the provisions of the 1987 Constitution, the Rules Governing Inquiries, and the lawful orders of the Honorable Court of Appeals,” read the petition.

Petitioners also told the SC that the House committee has subjected the six employees to psychological torture and intimidation.

“The Ilocos 6 were cited in contempt by the House Committee on Good Government and Public Accountability upon motion of respondent (Rep. Rodolfo) Farinas without even the slightest opportunity to be heard and to defend themselves,” the petitioners said.

Petitioners said the writ of amparo is necessary “to protect the actual and threatened violations and infringement of their constitutionally-guaranteed rights to liberty and security of person.”

A writ of amparo is a remedy available to any person whose right to life, liberty and security is violated or threatened with violation by an unlawful act or omission of a public official or employee, or of a private individual or entity.

The “Ilocos 6” have been detained since May 29 after being cited in contempt by the House committee on good government and public accountability.

A petition for habeas corpus has been filed with the Court of Appeals. The appeals court then ordered their release. It also issued a show cause order requiring House sergeant-at-arms Roland Detabali to explain why he should not be cited in contempt for defying the order and twice rejected the CA ruling.

However, the House officials refused to accept the orders and insisted they were invalid because the appellate court has no jurisdiction over the matter.

Instead, the House committee issued a show cause order requiring the CA justices to explain why they should not be cited in contempt for ordering the release of the so-called Ilocos 6.

In asking for the Court to assume jurisdiction over the habeas corpus case pending before the CA, the petitioners said the threats of the House to cite in contempt the CA justices handling the case and to abolish the said institution has undermined its judicial independence.

They added that a decision from the CA is unlikely forthcoming given the “chilling effect of the direct assault” of the House of Representatives on the CA.

As for the plea for writ of Amparo, petitioners cited as bases the alleged “prolonged interrogations, indefinite detention, coerced confessions, presumption of guilt and torture” employed by respondents in earlier hearings.

The so-called “Ilocos 6” remain in detention at the House of Representatives for over one month already while Marcos “has been threatened with arrest and incarceration in a “detention chamber” by the respondents if she refused to participate in proceedings where her failure to answer questions in a matter satisfactory to respondents will lead to a similar fate of indefinite detention.

“While ostensibly, the writ of Amparo pertains to situations relating to extralegal killings and enforced disappearances, the applicability of the same to the situation faced by petitioners in this case is supported by the underlying intent and premise considered by the Honorable Court at the time that the remedy was conceived and promulgated,” petitioners argued.

The petition named as respondents House majority leader and Ilocos Norte 1st district Rep. Rodolfo Fariñas, House committee chair and Surigao del Sur 2nd district Rep. Johnny Pimentel and House sergeant-at-arms Roland Detabali.

Meanwhile, Marcos said the House investigation obviously stemmed from her political rivalry with Fariñas in Ilocos Norte.

This started from local politics, so we should just bring the fight back to Ilocos Norte,” Marcos told reporter during the press conference.

Marcos recalled how she reconciled with Fariñas in 2010 only to again have a falling out later on due to the lawmaker’s request for his daughter to succeed his post in their district as he supposedly wants to be appointed Ombudsman after his three terms in Congress.

Marcos also showed documents from the Commission on Audit purportedly showing that the questioned project is aboveboard.

She even showed photos of Fariñas escorting her during the distribution of the vehicles to local farmers.

Marcos expressed willingness to attend the hearing despite being advised by local officials and other stakeholders in the province to boycott the proceedings.

“I want to go there but a lot of people have been advising me not to attend, to just boycott the hearing. I really wanted to face this (probe) because I am not hiding anything,” Marcos told reporters.

Meanwhile, Fariñas said there is a “clear conspiracy” to cover up the alleged misuse of tobacco funds in Ilocos Norte.

Fariñas, political rivals of the Marcoses, initiated the House investigation after obtaining checks for cash advances amounting to PHP66,450,000 in tobacco funds that were used by the Ilocos Norte provincial government to buy motor vehicles.

During the May 29 inquiry, Farinas said the “Ilocos 6” will be detained until Congress resumes its session in July 24, 2017. with Monica B. Guevarra (OJT)/PNA