MANILA, Philippines — After 57 days in detention at the Batasang Pambansa in Quezon City, six employees of the Ilocos Norte government finally walked free on Tuesday, July 25.
The House Committee on Good Government and Public Accountability chaired by Surigao del Sur Rep. Johnny Pimentel ordered the release of the employees after Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas made a motion to allow them to leave the premises of the House of Representatives.
It was also the Ilocos Norte representative who cited them in contempt resulting in their detention on May 29 for being evasive in answering the details of the transactions involving the allegedly anomalous purchase of motor vehicles worth P66.45 million using taxes from tobacco.
The employees are Pedro Agacaoili, chairman of the office’s Bids and Awards Committee and head of the provincial and planning development office; Josephine Calajate, provincial treasurer; Edna Battulayan, accountant; provincial budget officer Evangeline Tabulog; and two other employees, Genedine Jambaro and Encarnacion Gaor.
They were released after the employees testified during Tuesday’s House inquiry that they were the ones who had signed the documents the authorizing the release of funds for the purchase of the vehicles.
“Finally after five hearings, the officials answered the questions from the committee and the committee was satisfied that they were able to remember the transactions,” Pimentel said.
“They also admitted that the transactions were made through cash advances. This will be now in our records in preparation for the committee report,” he added.
At the hearing, photocopies of the vouchers and other documents related to the vehicle purchase were presented to the employees, who verified the documents. During the previous hearings, they said they could not confirm that the signatures appearing in the documents were theirs because the papers were just photocopies. The original documents were missing.
Ilocos Norte Governor Imee Marcos showed up during the inquiry on Tuesday and testified that the purchase of P66.45 million worth of vehicles by the provincial government did not go through public bidding but maintained that the deal had been cleared by the Commission on Audit and was thus aboveboard.
However, Pimentel said after the hearing that Marcos was still “liable” because in his opinion, “there were some laws violated” in the purchase of the vehicles.
“(But) we can’t preempt the committee report,” the committee chair added.
Asked to assess the answers of Marcos during the hearing, Pimentel said “she was not able to answer all questions.”
“She’s saying there was no irregularity, no corruption…but what we are questioning is the manner of procurement, the violation of Republic Act No.7171 or the Act to Promote the Development of the Farmer in the Virgina Tobacco-Producing Provinces.”
Pimentel said the law mandates that tobacco excise tax funds may be used only for cooperative, livelihood, agro-industrial, and infrastructure projects.
The next hearing of the committee is on August 9.
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