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SOURCE: Press and Public Affairs Bureau

House resumes probe of Ilocos Norte officials' P294 million tobacco tax controversy
01 March 2018 11:27:03 AM

The House committee on good government and public accountability on Wednesday grilled officials from Ilocos Norte and the Commission on Audit (COA) over the alleged misuse of the province’s tobacco excise tax collection share.

In particular, the panel questioned how over P294.3 million was released as cash advances for the purchase of medicines, construction projects, and motor vehicles.

The disbursement of the P294.3 million violates COA regulations that stipulate regular cash advances be granted for salaries and wages, commutable allowances, honoraria and similar payments to government servants, and petty operating expenses. Further, special cash advances shall only be granted for confidential expenses or agency expenses where a check would be impractical.

“Ang P294.3 million na cash advances na ginamit sa pagbili at pagconstruct ng mga bagay-bagay constitute at the very least a violation of the anti-graft and corrupt practices, if not plunder,” said Rep. Ariel Casilao.

Ilocos Norte Gov. Imee Marcos explained that she relied on the approval and endorsement of the province’s finance committee.

“Cash advance was the preferred mode of payment recommended by the local finance committee. And given that, this is the preferred mode as well of the suppliers. Dahil laging nagmamadali, eh talagang cash advance ang pinambabayad namin,” said Marcos.

Rep. Carlito Marquez noted lapses on the COA’s part, despite former COA Supervising Auditor Rizalino Franco’s assertion that the agency made an observation that the Ilocos Norte government pay procurements directly.

“Ang audit observation ‘di niyo na-convert to notice of disallowance. Kapabayaan po ito ng COA natin. Sana ‘di nagkakamali ang provincial government of Ilocos kung nagawa niyo ang notice of disallowance,” Marquez said.

Rep. Doy Leachon further questioned Ilocos Norte Provincial Treasurer Genedine Jambaro over the disbursement of cash advances for procurement purposes. Leachon said Jambaro should have spoken up when the disbursements strayed from the procedure as specified by the law.

Meanwhile, committee members pointed out that the use of funds should have raised flags with COA and Ilocos Norte officials.

The expenditures do not align with Republic Act 7171, which states that the share of excise taxes be used to advance the self-reliance of farmers in Virginia tobacco-producing provinces.

This includes funding cooperative projects to enhance products, livelihood projects to improve income, and agro-industrial infrastructure projects, as well as enabling farmers to be involved in the management and ownership of these projects.

“Ang pagkaintindi namin sa RA 7171 ay general guidelines yung apat na kategoriya, pero talagang hangad nito ay to improve the farmers’ general welfare and well-being,” Marcos explained.

This was refuted by tobacco farmers present during the proceedings, however.

Alyansa dagiti Mannalon ti Ilocos Norte (AMIN) Secretary General Antonio Pugyao shared that tobacco farmers had not benefitted from the province’s share of the tobacco excise tax. He said none of the AMIN members recall receiving any of the Ilocos Norte procurements mentioned in today’s deliberations.

“Nakakalula na po ‘yung amount na ipinasok ng tobacco farmers sa LGUs (local government units). Pero hanggang sa ngayon, imbis mag-improve ang kalagayan ng magsasaka, mannalon, hindi po eh,” Pugyao said. | CMBE