July 26, 2017, 2:37 am
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House leaders won’t let up on Imee

LAY off.

This was the message of the chair of the House committee on justice to the Supreme Court after Ilocos Gov. Imee Marcos filed an omnibus petition last week questioning the House committee on good government’s inquiry into the provincial government’s alleged misuse of P66.45 million in the tobacco excise tax.

Rep. Reynaldo Umali (PDP-Laban, Oriental Mindoro) raised a howl, saying the SC cannot meddle in the affairs of the House of Representatives because the congressional power to investigate is “absolute.” 

“How can there be grave abuse of discretion on a discretionary power absolutely given no less than by the Constitution to Congress? That can’t be,” he told a press conference. “I have always taken a position that there are certain matters raised before the SC that is a political question that the SC should not even entertain.”

Because of what he called “manipulation” by Marcos and her lawyers, Umali said “the Constitution is being prostituted and the principles underlying it.”

Umali said such acts are damaging both to the Legislature and the Judiciary as democratic institutions “which will not happen if only we (Congress and Judiciary) will stick by our respective mandates.”

“I’ve heard they (Marcos’ camp) are asking (the SC) to stop the inquiry of the committee on good government. How could this happen when this is a discretion that is absolutely lodged in the representatives of the people in the members of Congress?” he said.

The Supreme Court is set to tackle in today’s en banc session the petition of Marcos.

A highly-placed source said the justices have included the petition among the issues that will be discussed, adding the plea has been raffled off to one of the justices upon the filing of the petition last July 13.

The justices are also expected to act on the plea for the immediate release of the six employees – 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.

The good government committee has been investigating the alleged irregular cash advances made by Ilocos Norte to procure 40 multicabs (P18.6 million); five second hand Hyundai buses (P15.3 million); and 70 mini-trucks priced (P32.5 million) in 2011 and 2012.

Umali, whose panel handles impeachment complaints, asked the justices to “respect our mandate so we can avoid clashes.”

In her 67-page petition, Marcos asked the Supreme Court to assume jurisdiction over the habeas corpus case filed before the Court of Appeals by six employees of the provincial government called the “Ilocos Six” who have been detained by the House since May for refusing to answer questions pertaining to the tobacco excise tax.

It cited the July 7 letter of CA Associate Justice Edwin Sorongon who informed the High Court that he would no longer take part in the proceedings due to criticisms and prejudgment that he and his colleagues – Associate Justices Stephen Cruz and Nina Antonino Valenzuela of the Special Fourth Division – were partial and biased after they issued an order for the release of the six.

Deputy Speaker Sharon Garin said anyone would find it highly suspicious that the 70 minitrucks were all unregistered with the Land Transportation Office and have no records showing that these were bought from a local authorized dealer.

Even more suspicious, she said, was the committee’s findings that the minitrucks were neither manufactured by the company nor distributed locally and that even it bore another name—“Forland.”

“Only Governor Marcos can answer the numerous questions behind the irregularities involving the acquisition of the 70 minitrucks, among other suspected anomalies in these transactions, given that the provincial employees privy to these dealings have refused to cooperate with the committee and have all suddenly forgotten about them when these happened barely five years ago,” Garin said.

The good government panel chaired by Rep. Johnny Pimentel (PDP-Laban, Surigao del Sur) has been investigating the purchases for possible violation of Republic Act 7171 which states that the share of provinces from the taxes should only be used for certain projects that will promote the welfare of tobacco farmers.

“Considering that the governor’s hand was in every stage of the procurement process—from the purchase request up to the signing of the checks, who else can best enlighten the public about these suspicious deals?” Garin said.

Garin also questioned why the documents pertaining to the transactions on the 115 vehicles have gone missing and none of the originals could be found either at the provincial capitol or the Commission on Audit’s provincial stockroom.

She recalled that upon questioning of Pimentel, LTO Regional Director Teofilo Guadiz III told the panel that only Foton ambulances were registered with their office and that none of the five secondhand buses, 40 multicabs or 70 minitrucks were registered.

Pimentel also asked Ruby Grace Dimaano,   vice president for legal and compliance of United Asia Automotive Group Inc. (UAAGI), the local exclusive distributor of Foton vehicles, if Ilocos Norte bought 70 minitrucks from them which she denied. – With Ashzel Hachero
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