Alvarez keeps local execs detained at House in defiance of CA order

Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez

MANILA — Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez on Wednesday refused to budge from his position to defy the Court of Appeals (CA), which had earlier ordered the House leadership to present six Ilocos Norte provincial government officials detained at the lower chamber for contempt.

In a text message to reporters, Alvarez made this reaction to the order of the appellate court to the Office of the Sergeant-at-Arms to explain why it should not be cited for contempt for defying the court oder.

“That’s gross ignorance of the law. Mga gago yang tatlong justices na yan!” Alvarez said, referring to the justices who issued the order.

In an order made public Monday, the court’s Special Fourth Division directed Alvarez to submit an explanation why they should not be cited for contempt for defying its order to present the six employees of the provincial government before the appellate court last week.

This developed after the appellate court earlier granted the officials’ petition for a writ of habeas corpus.

Ilocos Norte Rep. Rodolfo Fariñas, the majority leader, said the case was now pending before the court.

“Let the arguments be made in court by the respective parties,” he said.

Fariñas earlier maintained that the CA could not infringe on the constitutional power of Congress to cite errant resource persons for contempt.

The officials were cited for contempt for failing to answer in connection with the House inquiry into the alleged misuse of tobacco funds in Ilocos Norte.

“The Office of the Solicitor General that is representing the Sergeant at Arms of the House of Representatives, retired Lt. Gen. Roland Detabali, has questioned the jurisdiction of the Court of Appeals over the contempt powers of Congress,” Fariñas earlier said.

In the conduct of its inquiry, Fariñas moved to have the provincial officials cited for contempt and detained at the House.

The officials are engineer Pedro Agcaoili, chairman of the Bids and Awards Committee and head of the Provincial Planning and Development Office; Eden Battulayan, accountant 4 of the Provincial Accounting Office; and provincial budget officer Evangeline Tabulog.

Fariñas moved for them to be cited in contempt after they claimed they forgot about the transactions even though these were just made in 2011.

Earlier, the committee also cited for contempt the following officials – treasurer Josephine Calajete; Encarnacion Gaor and Genedine Jambaro, staff of Office of the Provincial Treasurer; Evangeline Tabulog, provincial budget officer; Eden Battulayan, provincial accounting office accountant IV; Pedro Agcaoili of the provincial planning and development office, and general services officer Joseph Castro.

The Court of Appeals earlier granted the writ of the habeas corpus petition of the following officials – Jambaro, Gaor, Calajate, Battulayan, Tabulog, and Agcaoili.

They remain detained at the House as the Sergeant-At-Arms defied the appellate court’s order.

The House committee investigating the alleged tobacco funds misuse also subpoenaed Ilocos Norte Gov. Imee Marcos, who snubbed the committee inquiry which she labeled as “political persecution.”

It was Fariñas who filed House Resolution 882 calling for an investigation on the Ilocos Norte provincial government’s use of the excise taxes on locally-produced Virginia-type cigarettes.

Fariñas is on his last term in Congress, raising speculations that he would challenge Marcos’s anointed one in the provincial capitol. Marcos is on her last term as governor.

The Fariñas and Marcos clans have been in a love-hate alliance that rocks the political atmosphere of Ilocos Norte every elections.

The Marcoses cut ties with the Fariñases in 2015, reportedly due to political differences.

In calling for the probe, Fariñas alleged he received cash advances that P66.45 million tobacco funds were used to purchase minicabs, buses, and minitrucks for the different Ilocos Norte municipalities, even though the law Republic Act 7171 that imposed the tax on Virginia cigarettes states that the excise tax should be used for livelihood projects and infrastructure projects benefiting the tobacco farmers.

Fariñas alleged the purchases were done without public bidding, in violation of the procurement law and the government auditing code.

In a letter to the committee, Marcos lamented that Fariñas’s resolution already called the purchase of motor vehicles “highly irregular” even before conducting a hearing.

Marcos said there was nothing irregular in the purchase because it was intended to improve transport to increase productivity, market produce and access.

She said the highly charged words used in the House Resolution that called the purchase irregular reeked of ”bias and oppression,” which may be used for “political persecution.”