Pimentel prods COA to hasten probe on missing Ilocos Norte documents » Manila Bulletin News

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By Ellson Quismorio

Surigao del Sur 2nd district Rep. Johnny Pimentel has called on the Commission on Audit (COA) to hasten its ongoing  probe on the missing original documents pertaining to the purchase of 115 land vehicles approved by Ilocos Norte Governor Imee Marcos to the tune of P66.45 million.

Ilocos Norte Governor Imee Marcos  (Jansen Romero / MANILA BULLETIN)

Pimentel, chairman of the House Committee on Good Government and Public Accountability wondered at the possibility that the provincial government was in cahoots with former COA officials regarding the controversial transactions between 2011 and 2012.

Pimentel raised the conspiracy angle after House Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas found out that retired COA auditor Rizalino Franco, then the supervising official when the irregular vehicle purchases were examined by the audit body, had been hired as a financial consultant by the Ilocos Norte government for a fee of P20,000 a month.

“Mr. Franco had, all along, been keeping this vital piece of information to himself. The [Committee] has already conducted seven hearings on this issue, and Mr. Franco who was always there, had not even bothered to inform the members that he is being paid by the provincial government of Ilocos Norte for over a year now as its consultant,” said Pimentel.

“His silence on this matter is highly suspicious,” he added.

The Mindanao solon reckoned that the COA should now be updating the House panel on the results of its investigation on the missing papers on the vehicle purchase.

“[COA] chairman, Michael Aguinaldo, told the House Committee in the second hearing that his office was already conducting an internal probe into this mysterious disappearance,” Pimentel noted. This particular hearing was held last May.

COA Regional Director Michael Bacani also confirmed that Aguinaldo had ordered an investigation on the missing documents.

The Pimentel panel has been looking into the alleged irregular cash advances made by Governor Marcos to procure 40 multicabs worth P18.6 million, five second hand Hyundai buses costing P15.3 million and 70 mini-trucks priced at P32.5 million using the province’s share of the proceeds from excise taxes collected from locally produced Virginia-type cigarettes.

Pimentel has said that this act is a no-no as it violates several laws.

Lame excuse

In the hearing conducted by the Committee last week, Fariñas found out that four months after Franco’s retirement or starting August 1, 2016, the latter was hired as a consultant by the Capitol. He was tasked to advise provincial officials on COA-related concerns.

Fariñas, a former Ilocos Norte governor, asked Franco why he did not insist on including in the annual audit report the red flags found on the vehicle purchases so that a proper investigation could have been made.

Franco’s answer? He said that he was then on his way to Ilocos Sur when the annual audit report for Ilocos Norte was being done.

“Like Congressman Fariñas, we are also wondering why Mr. Franco who was then supervising auditor at that time, did not include the adverse findings of auditor Cornelio Viernes who issued an Audit Observation Memorandum (AOM) that point to several red flags on the transactions for the vehicle purchases,” Pimentel said.

In the earlier hearings of the panel, Viernes said the use of cash advances to procure the vehicles was the reason why he had prepared an AOM “questioning management why it resorted to cash advances instead of regular check disbursement.”

Viernes also told the Committee that he had reported this concern to Franco.

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