A petition for the issuance of a writ of habeas corpus has been filed at the Court of Appeals by legal counsels of the six employees of the Provincial Government of Ilocos Norte or PGIN ordered detained by the House Committee on Good Governance.
Atty. Da Vinci Crisostomo, also a member of Ilocos Norte’s Sangguniang Panlalawigan, explained their petition as a request to the Sergeant-at-Arms of the House of Representatives to bring the employees to the Court and explain the basis of the Committees decision.
“Citing them in contempt and issuing a detainment order was not right,” said Crisostomo. “One ground for contempt [at the House] is ‘refusal to answer any question,’ but we saw in the [hearing] transcript and we heard that all they asked of them were answered.”
The employees acted as resource persons for the congressional inquiry into PGIN’s purchase of motor vehicles amounting to P66.55 million sourced from the province’s share of the Tobacco Excise Tax, or Republic Act 7171.
These vehicles had been distributed to barangay captains for use of tobacco farmers and other agricultural processes as a post-harvest facility, such as in transporting produce from farms to markets.
House Majority Leader and Ilocos Norte 1st District Rep. Rodolfo Fariñas cited the PGIN employees in contempt and motioned for their detainment for “refusing to answer questions” he asked regarding the purchases based on photocopied documents.
The committee had asked to see the original documents, which had been submitted from corresponding Provincial Capitol offices to the Commission on Audit.
Ilocos Norte Provincial Board Member Atty. Vicentito Lazo pointed out that the PGIN employees “did not say ‘I refuse to answer, Your Honor.’ What they said was, ‘Those are photocopies. If we could find the originals, we could answer your questions.’”
“But Congressman Fariñas said the originals were lost, and added that the Capitol lost the documents at the COA office itself,” Lazo added.