When it rains in Ilocos, it pours

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The House Committee on Good Government and Public Accountability recently resumed its hearings on allegations of anomalies in the Ilocos Norte provincial government headed by Gov. Imee Marcos. This time, the committee led by Rep. Johnny Pimentel, was able to unearth more irregularities on top of earlier illegal vehicle purchases totaling P66.45 million.

It appears that Marcos approved more cash advances amounting to P26 million in 2012 that are unauthorized under the rules and regulations set by the Commission on Audit (COA).

The questionable purchases made with cash advances totalling P26,049,723.68 consisted of the purchase of a portrait bust sculpture and services for the Paoay Museum (P2,986,344); materials and installation of precast concrete for Paseo de Paoay (P4,838,191.68); purchase of medicines and libspray 211 (P5,999,788); purchase of Panlabanan 5EC (P10,475,400); and another purchase of medicines (P1,750,000).

As the hearings unfolded, it was revealed that the memorandum of agreement with the private contractor for the development of the Paoay Museum—Integrated Conservation Unlimited Inc.—was signed on July 26, 2012, or at the same time that the provincial government was still drafting its  acceptance and inspection report for the project.

On the P5.9-million acquisition of medicines and libspray, it was pointed out that the obligation requests for the transactions either contained no date and no payee and no signature of Marcos, and was sourced from the proceeds from the excise taxes on Virginia tobacco.

Meanwhile, House Majority Leader Rodolfo C. Fariñas Sr. also discovered that retired COA resident auditor Rizalino Franco had been receiving a P20,000 a month in consultancy fees from the provincial government, raising questions about possible collusion between him and the Ilocos Norte provincial government after the original documents on earlier questionable vehicle purchases had gone missing.

During one hearing, it was also revealed that the check for the new set of uncovered cash advances—around P5.9 million—was for medicines and libspray, a form of insecticide, which a committee member said was highly irregular. Aside from this, no date was specified in the notice of award for the medicines.

The P26-million worth of purchases also violated COA rules and regulations, particularly Sections 9, 45 and 46 of COA Circular 92-382 dated July 3, 1992, which states that: one, all disbursements shall be made by check except otherwise provided; two, cash payments shall be made only on duly approved payrolls/disbursement vouchers/liquidation vouchers out of regular cash advances or special cash advances; and three, regular cash advances are allowed only for salaries and wages, commutable allowances, honoraria and other similar payments to officials and employees, petty operating expenses, while  special cash advances are allowed only on the explicit authority of the local government chief executive for confidential expenses and expenditures for the activities undertaken in the field when it is impractical to pay checks.

Amid the revelations of new irregularities, Fariñas said Ilocos Norte led by Marcos does not deserve the Seals of Good Local Governance (SGLG) that it had received from the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG).

Besides violating COA rules, the purchase of medicines, like the earlier vehicle acquisitions tackled by the committee, also allegedly violated provisions of Republic Act (RA) 7171.

RA 7171 refers to the law creating a special fund to provide Virginia-tobacco producing provinces, like Ilocos Norte, a share in the proceeds from the excise taxes on locally produced Virginia cigarettes. The law states that the funds allotted to the provinces can only be used for programs that would benefit tobacco farmers, such as livelihood, cooperative, agro-industrial and infrastructure projects.

When Marcos attended the July 25 hearing of the committee, she insisted that the COA had cleared earlier transactions involving the procurement of 40 multicabs worth P18.6 million, five secondhand buses priced at P15.3 million and 70 mini trucks costing P32.5 million.  

However, the July 25 hearing and the earlier hearings of the committee, along with documentary evidence, uncovered the fact that the COA issued an Audit Observation Memorandum (AOM), which said the use of cash advances to buy the vehicles violated COA rules and regulations.  It also confirmed that Ilocos Norte’s funds representing its share of excise taxes on Virginia tobacco were used to purchase the vehicles.

Thriller

Unless you’ve been hiding in a cave for sometime, you would no doubt be well aware by now of the controversy surrounding Commission on Election Chairman Andres Bautista and his estranged wife Patricia’s allegation that he has amassed nearly a billion pesos in hidden wealth.

The controversy hit the headlines in a big way, as it involved a prominent government official holding a sensitive position.

What has emerged here is not only a marriage gone sour, but that the wife wants a hefty portion of their conjugal property.

But it seems that certain quarters want to put politics in the forefront, even suggesting that the estranged wife should be admitted to the Department of Justice’s Witness Protection Program.

It is curious that an individual of her stature, a well-known socialite and staunch believer in New Age philosophy, could be so civic-minded and so concerned with public interest all of a sudden. Is this a profound change of heart or not?

All the talk about her so-called third eye and claim of finding her soulmate may have gotten her media attention, but are political considerations getting in the way? Is this part of a political plot designed to lead to one of the country’s favorite spectacles: an impeachment trial?

For every explanation Andy tries to provide, two more complications grow in its place. As the plot thickens, the political motives are starting to emerge. When can we expect the truth to come out of this seemingly orchestrated spectacle? Let’s wait and see.

 

E-mail: ernhil@yahoo.com.



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