House committee eyes plunder charge in Ilocos Norte overpriced trucks case

Imee Marcos
Ilocos Norte Governor Imee Marcos (image from video by Lira Dalangin-Fernandez, InterAksyon)

MANILA, Philippines – Surigao del Sur Representative Johnny Ty Pimentel on Monday disclosed that the committee on good government and public accountability of the House of Representatives is considering a recommendation to file plunder charges against Ilocos Norte Governor Imee Marcos; a Singapore-based businessman said to be personally close to her; his secretary; and other officials of the province.

The move is in connection with allegedly overpriced light trucks purchased by the local government illegally procured using tobacco funds, according to the committee’s chairperson, Rep. Pimentel.

On Monday, October 9, Pimentel said the committee also cited in contempt Mark Chua, the Singaporean businessman; his secretary, Irene Mendoza; and Gilbert Suribas, vice president of Granstar Motors, supplier of the 100 multicabs and mini-trucks to Ilocos Norte.

The three face arrest if they do not satisfactorily explain their involvement in the anomaly before the committee.

The committee has been conducting an inquiry into the alleged misuse of some P66.4 million tobacco funds by the provincial government.

Aside from the vehicles being overpriced, Pimentel said, the purchase was in violation of Republic Act No. 7171 – An Act to Promote The Development of Farmers in the Virginia Tobacco Producing Provinces – because it diverted bespoke tobacco funds away from its intended use.

“We were able to establish that there was a highly anomalous transaction disadvantageous to the government,” Pimentel said.

Asked by journalists if the findings could lead to the recommendation to file plunder charges, he said: “It might, because as the hearing progresses, we have uncovered, as I’ve said, many other transactions.

“One is the purchase of fertilizer in the amount of P56 million, again without the conduct of public bidding, and in excess of the minimum actionable amount for plunder, and we might consider in the Committee Report the filing of plunder against the culpable officers of province of Ilocos Norte.”

Pimentel said all the questioned transactions “bear the signature of Governor Imee Marcos,” including the contract, vouchers and memorandum of agreement.”

“She is the most responsible person in all these transactions,” he said.

In a separate interview, Marcos reiterated there was nothing anomalous in the use of the funds, stressing that the projects were delivered and benefited the people of Ilocos Norte.

She added the Commission on Audit (COA) had no adverse findings on how the funds were used.

“Fully liquidated ang bawat isa sa amounts na tinutukoy, na-deliver ang lahat at sapat na pinakinabangan ng probinsya (Each stated amount was fully liquidated. All procurements were delivered and redounded to the benefit of the province),” she underscored.

Marcos lamented that the committee has “prejudged” the case even before the report had been prepared. But, she said she hopes the members will keep an open mind in assessing the case.

In a hearing last August 31, Pimentel said Granstar president-owner Fabian Go said he dealt with Chua and Mendoza in supplying the vehicles to Ilocos Norte.

“Mr. Fabian Go claimed that, all the while, he did not know the deal was a government transaction because it was the secretary of Mark Chua who was talking to them, and then Mark Chua came and paid for the vehicles,” Pimentel said.

Pimentel said the multicabs were overpriced by P195,000 each because Chua paid only P260,000 per unit.

Go had said he received only P29.7 million from Chua, while the Ilocos Norte government supposedly paid P51.2 million for the vehicles.

In the previous hearings attended by Marcos, she insisted that the purchases were aboveboard.

Chua, a Singaporean, left the country last July 15. Pimentel said that when an arrest order gets to be issued by the committee, the panel would coordinate with Singapore authorities for its proper intervention.