SC affirms House contempt order vs. ‘Ilocos 6’

MANILA — The Supreme Court (SC) dismissed the petition filed by Ilocos Norte Governor Imee Marcos and six provincial officials, known as the “Ilocos 6”, assailing the legality of the contempt order issued by the House of Representatives that led to their detention over their refusal to answer questions during the congressional probe on the alleged misuse of PHP66.45 million in tobacco excise tax funds.

In a media briefer released on Tuesday, the High Court, during its en banc session, dismissed the omnibus petition for habeas corpus, prohibition, injunctive relief, and amparo against the show cause order issued by the House committee on good government and public accountability.

“In so ruling, the Court found that the habeas corpus aspect was rendered moot and academic by the release of petitioners; the prohibition aspect finds no justification as the Court found no grave abuse of discretion on the part of respondents; and the writ of Amparo will not lie as there is no legal or factual justification therefor in the absence of an extralegal killing or an enforced disappearance, or threats thereof,” read the SC ruling.

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

Marcos was joined by petitioners Pedro Agcaoili, Provincial Planning and Development Office chairperson; Josephine Calajate, provincial treasurer; Eden Battulayan, Provincial Treasurer’s Office staff; Encarnacion Gaor, Provincial Treasurer’s Office staff; Genedine Jambaro, Provincial Treasurer’s Office staff; and Evangeline Tabulog, provincial budget officer, in questioning the conduct of the House probe.

In July 2017, the House committee on good government and public accountability ordered the release of the “Ilocos 6”, who were detained at the Batasan Complex in Quezon City.

This came after the House panel approved the motion of Fariñas to lift the contempt order issued to the six Ilocos Norte officials, who finally responded to the questions asked by lawmakers regarding the anomalous purchase of motor vehicles using excise taxes.

In their 67-page omnibus petition, the petitioners asked the high court to issue a temporary restraining order (TRO) stopping the investigation of the House committee. They also asked the SC to order their release and assume jurisdiction on the writ of habeas corpus case pending before the Court of Appeals (CA), which earlier ordered 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 House committee “to protect the actual and threatened violations and infringement of their constitutionally-guaranteed rights to liberty and security of person.”

The committee on good government and public accountability has been conducting an investigation into the provincial government’s alleged misuse of tobacco excise funds amounting to PHP66.45 million.

The six provincial government officials have been in House detention last May 2017 after they were held in contempt for giving “evasive answers”.

They elevated the case to the High Tribunal after the House repeatedly and deliberately defied the order of the CA special fourth division for their release.

The mode used in the purchase of vehicles was through cash advances, using the province’s share from excise taxes derived from locally produced cigarettes or the special support fund under Republic Act No. 7171.

Under RA 7171, the 15-percent share of Virginia tobacco-producing provinces shall be allotted for livelihood projects and infrastructure projects as a special support for tobacco farmers.

The purchased vehicles of the provincial government consisted of 40 units of minicabs, five units of buses, and 70 units of Foton Mini Trucks, totaling PHP66.4 million.

The first check was issued on Dec. 1, 2011 in the amount of PHP18.6 million. Then on May 25, 2012, another check was issued amounting to PHP15.3 million, which was followed by another check issued on Sept. 12, 2012 in the amount of PHP32.5 million.