House panel eyes plunder raps vs. Imee Marcos

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Ilocos Norte Gov. Imee Marcos. (FILE PHOTO)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, October 9) — A House panel is considering filing plunder charges against Ilocos Norte Governor Imee Marcos over an alleged misuse of multimillion-peso tobacco funds, among others.

"We have already established that there is a highly anomalous transaction made with the province of Ilocos Norte, which is very disadvantageous to the government," House Committee on Good Governance chairman Johnny Pimentel told reporters Monday.

The committee chairman said that as the hearing progressed, they discovered more anomalous deals.

"Meron isang transaction na naman na nakita kami [We saw one transaction], purchase of fertilizer in the amount of ₱56 million. Again, without the conduct of public bidding, pasok na pasok na po ito sa [it qualifies as] plunder," Pimentel said.

Pimentel explained all transaction-related documents were signed by Marcos, making her most responsible for the deals.

Meanwhile, the Ilocos Norte governor denied the accusations, saying the Commission on Audit in Ilocos Norte did not have any adverse findings.

"Maliwanag na talagang fully liquidated ang bawat isa, sa mga amounts na tinutukoy kung fertilizer man, kung vehicles man, lahat 'yan ay fully liquidated. Na-deliver nang sapat at napakinabangan ng probinsya. Ito ay maliwanag," Marcos replied Monday.

[Translation:It's clear that everything is fully liquidated, from the amounts referred to, be it the fertilizer, be it vehicles, everything is fully liquidated. They were delivered and the province has benefited from it. That is clear.]

She claimed the House hearings have been prejudged.

"Umaasa parin ako na makikinig sila at magkakaroon ng bukas na kaisipan upang makita kung papaano nagamit," she added.

[Translation: I hope they listen and they open their minds to see how the resources are being used.]

The Ilocos Norte government has been accused of purchasing 40 minicabs and 70 mini trucks amounting to ₱66.45 million, allegedly using the tobacco excise tax fund earmarked to help tobacco farmers.

Marcos has repeatedly denied the allegations of corruption. She sought Supreme Court intervention to stop the House inquiry in July.

Overpriced purchases

Granstar Motors and Indusrial Corporation President Fabian Go earlier admitted that he sold the mini cabs for ₱290,000 each and mini trucks ₱270,000 each to Mark Chua, who Pimentel claims to be Marcos' Singaporean boyfriend.

Chua served as the middleman between Granstar, the importer of mini trucks and mini vans, and the Ilocos Norte provincial government.

But documents presented in the hearings revealed the vehicles were bought for ₱465,000 each—and were paid via cash advance.

Pimentel said the transaction also violated Republic Act 7171, which does not allow using tobacco excise tax funds in purchasing vehicles. He claimed there was also a violation of the Government Procurement Reform Act, when it did not conduct public biddings to purchase the vehicles.

Meanwhile, the House panel issued a show-cause order against Chua to explain why he should not be cited for contempt, after not heeding the committee's subpoena against him.

If he still refuses to show up in the next committee hearing, the House panel will order his arrest.

According to Pimentel, Chua left the country for Singapore in July 15.

Once a warrant of arrest has been issued against Chua, the committee plans to seek the intervention of the Singaporean government for his arrest.