Ilocos Norte officials attend tobacco fund hearing in Congress

LAOAG CITY — To shed light on the alleged misused of tobacco funds amounting to PHP 66.5 million, Ilocos Norte officials, led by Vice Governor Eugenio Angelo Marcos Barba, attended Tuesday a public hearing at the House of Representatives.

Earlier, the House committee on good government and public accountability conducted an inquiry on the Ilocos Norte government’s alleged anomalous transactions using the multi-million tobacco excise tax due for tobacco-producing farmers, which was brought up by Rep. Rodolfo Fariñas, a political adversary of the Marcoses.

During the hearing, the committee, chaired by Surigao del Sur Rep. Johnny Pimentel, asked the Commission on Audit and the Provincial Government of Ilocos Norte to submit written reports within a week about the disbursement of funds of the tobacco excise tax share of the province for review.

He likewise reiterated that Governor Ma. Imelda Josefa Marcos and the members of the local finance committee should appear in the next hearing on May 29, or else they will be cited for contempt.

Provincial board member Vicentito Lazo, in his capacity as chairperson of the committee on finance, clarified that “it is too early to say that there was misuse of funds because there was yet no adverse findings from the COA.”

“Let us wait for Congress to (finish its) investigation,” Lazo said.

For some Ilocos Norte officials and residents, they said the latest controversy involving Marcos and Fariñas could probably “be the start of a brewing political war in the province.”

“What happened to our governor and congressman? Are they at war? It’s difficult to be in the middle of two giant political figures,” said a former politician who preferred not to be identified.

Fariñas pinned down on the governor, citing she was involved in the allegedly anomalous transactions.

“She was the one who signed, according to the documents that were given to me. She signed the purchase request; she approved the disbursement voucher; she approved the check,” he said.

Fariñas said that Marcos could face plunder because the amount involves more than PHP50 million, technical malversation, and procurement law violations.

According to Fariñas, the provincial government purchased the motor vehicles in three transactions through cash advances without a public bidding.

The said vehicles were also not registered and insured. LGA/