SOURCE: Press and Public Affairs Bureau
The House committee on good government and public accountability cited for contempt several officials and employees of the provincial government of Ilocos Norte (PGIN) for snubbing twice the panel’s invitation to shed light on the alleged anomalous purchase of minicabs, buses and trucks amounting to P66.4 million using the province’s tobacco excise tax collection share and without public biddings.
The committee cited for contempt the officials during its second day of inquiry on the issue which is being done on the basis of House Resolution 882 filed by Majority Leader Rep. Rodolfo C. Farinas (1st District, Ilocos Norte), Deputy Majority Leader Rep. Juan Pablo “Rimpy” P. Bondoc (4th District, Pampanga) and Rep. Aurelio “Dong” D. Gonzales, Jr. (3rdDistrict, Pampanga).
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. The lawmakers said the purchase violated the provisions of RA 7171, RA 9184 (Government Procurement Reform Act) and Presidential Decree 1445 (Government Auditing Code of the Philippines).
Per RA 7171, the 15 percent share of Virginia tobacco producing provinces shall be utilized to advance the self-reliance of the tobacco famers through cooperative, livelihood, agro-industrial and infrastructure projects to benefit the region and the stakeholders.
The PGIN officials and staff cited for contempt by the committee chaired by Rep. Johnny T. Pimentel (2nd District, Surigao del Sur) were: provincial administrator Atty. Windell Chua; provincial treasurer Josephine Calajate; provincial budget officer Evangeline Tabulog; accountant Eden Batulayan; general services officer Joseph Castro; Encarnacion Gaor and Genedine Jambaro of the office of the provincial treasurer; Engr. Pedro Agcaoili of the provincial planning and development office; and others. They were served subpoenas last May 15, 2017 for not attending the committee’s previous hearing.
Board members of Ilocos Norte, who were involved in the transactions, were also invited by the committee, but some of them were not present during the hearing. Vice Governor Eugenio Angelo Barba said he attended the hearing in behalf of the invited provincial board members.
During the hearing, Fariñas confronted board member Da Vinci Crisostomo for saying during a radio interview “The good congressman knows his law, he should just file the appropriate cases in court.”
Crisostomo clarified that what he meant was that “a good lawyer, if he has evidence, must go to court and file a case.”
“You do not know our procedure here panyero. This is an inquiry in aid of legislation. The province of Ilocos Norte has been receiving hundreds of millions of pesos arising from a law made by this Congress. And Congress has oversight powers to see to it that the law is followed and if need be, we pass amendments. So we are still in the process of doing our legislative functions and that is unkind of you to be saying on the radio that a good lawyer if he has evidence, should just go to court. I am here appearing not as a lawyer. I am here as a representative of the first district of Ilocos Norte,” Fariñas said.
Fariñas requested the entry of appearances of counsels before the committee after asking Crisostomo who he is lawyering for. Crisostomo said he is the lawyer of former Commission on Audit (COA) Region 1 supervising auditor Rizalino Franco.
Lawyer Erme Labayog, legal counsel of the PGIN, was questioned by Fariñas why he was the one sent by the provincial government of Ilocos Norte and not the invited resource persons. He also inquired if Labayog’s trip to Manila was authorized.
Labayog said his trip was authorized by acting Governor Barba, as representative of the department heads and employees of PGIN.
Labayog also informed the committee that among the reasons given by the subpoenaed officials and employees for their non-appearance in the hearing is that they were waiting for the go-signal of Ilocos Norte Governor Imee Marcos and there was conflict in their schedules.
Bondoc told Crisostomo that the case under inquiry involves three checks issued by the PGIN as cash advances. The first check was issued on December 1, 2011 in the amount of P18.6 million and this is supported by the necessary documents. Then on May 25, 2012, another check was issued amounting to P15.3 million which was followed by another check issued on September 12, 2012 in the amount of P32.5 million.
“As you said Atty. Crisostomo, if a lawyer has evidence, then the case should be filed in court. Is that not so Atty. Crisostomo,” Bondoc inquired.
“What is surprising is the difficulty of this committee in getting the necessary evidence that you so claim is needed to file a case in court. As a man of logic, reasoning and experience, would you not be surprised Atty. Crisostomo that all the documentary evidence relating to a necessary audit of these checks months, years apart have surprisingly disappeared under the noses of the Commission on Audit (COA) (officers) assigned to the provincial government of Ilocos Norte. Voila! The body of the crime has disappeared,” Bondoc said.
Bondoc said his revelation before the panel was based on an affidavit given by Marylyn Llaguno, State Auditor IV of the Commission on Audit (COA) La Union.
“Would you not sir, in the quest for light in this investigation, be surprised that not one sack of subsequent dates, not one folder from similar activities but three different transactions years apart, months apart, surprisingly are the so-called ‘missing evidence’ that the COA cannot find. But your interpretation is that this so-called evidence cannot be found by the agency of government tasked to audit this,” said Bondoc.
Crisostomo said he believes there are photocopies of the documents being referred to and asked how these document came out.
Bondoc said Crisostomo is of the belief that there are not only one set of documents, but duplicates and triplicates. “To your legal mind, to your trained experience which has led you to comment that this evidence can be produced, there is not only one single set that could prove malfeasance or misfeasance before this committee and the appropriate court, is that not right Atty.Crisostomo,” Bondoc asked.
Through a subpoena, Bondoc said the committee will compel people concerned to produce the pieces of evidence needed.
“Is it not surprising that three batches of documents pertaining to this transaction have disappeared and cannot be found”, Bondoc said.
Gonzales said he was once a provincial board member and knows the processes or procedures involved in government procurements based on the Government Procurement Reform Act or Republic Act 9184.
Gonzales then asked Labayog to whom the vehicles were registered because the PGIN lawyer said he had seen their certificate of registration (COR). Labayog replied the vehicles were registered under the name of the PGIN.
Gonzales said the vehicles were registered under the PGIN, so there could have been a meeting among the department heads, provincial treasurer, GSO, accountant, and head of the Provincial Bids and Awards Committee (BAC). He asked who is the PBAC chairman and BAC secretariat of the department heads.
Bondoc said the panel can understand the predicament of the COA as admitted by COA chairman Michael G. Aguinaldo who claimed the storage spaces are lacking for physical documentation.
“What troubles the committee is the seeming conspiracy to hide all the documents necessary, with the people supposed to protect public funds working together,” Bondoc said.
Bondoc prodded Llaguno to exert sincere effort to locate the documents.
It was established in the hearing that documentary papers needed for said vehicles are unavailable from concerned offices of the PGIN, the LTO and the COA regional office.
Other lawmakers raised clarificatory legal, technical, auditing and procedural questions to COA chairman Michael Aguinaldo and other resource persons from the Department of Budget and Management
Pimentel said the Philippine Government Electronic Procurement System (PHILGEPS) should be invited in the next hearing as the agency may have the complete list of information on government procurement.
Deputy Speaker Romero “Miro” S. Quimbo (2nd District, Marikina City) asked the DBM whether the incremental collection earmarked at 20 percent on sin taxes for 2012 part of releases under R.A. 7171 that will benefit farmers.
Atty. Leila Magda Rivera, director of the Department of Budget and Management’s Local Government And Regional Coordination Bureau (DBM-LGRCB) said it is a separate item. She said the data on releases that they have only covers the province of Ilocos Norte. She assured their agency will submit to the committee an updated list of releases for all LGUs with shares from the tobacco excise tax per R.A. 7171.
Meanwhile, Quimbo revealed that the supposedly purchased FOTON vehicles were of other types of vehicle as he was able to get an image of them from one of the resource persons from the PGIN. With this discovery, the investigation goes deeper, said Quimbo.
Rep. Eugene Michael de Vera (Party-list, ABS) said during the time of President Arroyo, there was a task force created through a presidential issuance, which was composed of different agencies assigned to monitor the use of funds from RA 7171. The group headed by the presidential assistant for Luzon was composed of the DBM, Department of Finance (DOF), Bureau of Internal revenue (BIR), among others.
De Vera asked the resource persons if the task force still exists. While it is unsure if it still operates, Rivera said there is a mechanism to monitor the releases from the sin taxes. He then asked which is the proper agency that can recommend to the President to handle and monitor fund proceeds from R.A.7171 to prevent its abuse.
Gonzales asked Melissa Santiago Yan, executive director of the DBM - Government Policy Procurement Board (GPPB) whether said transactions in question were advertised at the GPPB. Yan said she is from the GPPB policy team and it would be wise to invite resource persons from the Philippine Government Electronic Procurement System (PHILGEPS).
Deputy Speaker Gwendolyn Garcia (3rd District, Cebu) asked that the annual and supplemental budgets of PGIN for the years 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014 be submitted by the PGIN to the committee.
Fariñas raised the issue on the acceptance receipt of equipment (ARE) attached to the subject vehicles. He said barangay captains complained to him that there was a transfer of possession, but not transfer of ownership of the vehicles.
Fariñas clarified to the panel that ARE is similar to MRE or memorandum receipt of equipment.
The purchased vehicles of the PGIN consisted of 40 units minicabs, five units buses, and 70 units Foton Mini Trucks, totaling P66.4 million.
Pimentel asked the board members present to submit the PGIN’s annual investment plan to the committee. He said the next hearing is set on May 29. / ICY JR.