Tobacco farmers demand jail for execs who misused excise taxes

Jun 25, 2017

STA. LUCIA, ILOCOS SUR – Tobacco farmers are seeking the Duterte government to send Ilocos Norte officials who misused tobacco excise taxes in jail.
Also claiming tobacco excise taxes fund misuse have not been confined only in Ilocos Norte, but the entire tobacco-producing provinces in the Ilocos region, organized farmer-members of the Solidarity of Peasants Against Exploitation (STOP Exploitation) and the Alyansa dagiti Mannalon ti Ilocos Norte (Peasant Alliance in Ilocos Norte or AMIN) in a joint statement said, “misuse and corruption of the RA 7171 funds is not limited to Ilocos Norte.”
Zaldy Alfiler, secretary general of STOP Exploitation and Antonio Pugyao, AMIN secretary general both said, “since its implementation in 1992, politicians in Ilocos region and other Virginia tobacco-producing provinces mainly utilized the funds for the furtherance of their political ambitions, leaving only crumbs for the farmers.”
These farmers’ group had earlier asked through the National Tobacco Administration a full audit on multi-billion RA 7171 funds released to all local government units.
“(We) are demanding the appropriate use of the funds from RA 7171,” tobacco farmers said, explaining, “this is part of the justice that the farmers want to attain.”
Organized farmers’ groups find it an insult and big injustice to look at the issue as a mere political stunt, “this issue should not be viewed as an offshoot of politics because the utilization of the RA 7171 funds are evidently irregular and illegal.”
Alfiler and Pugyao chorused, “clearly, corrupt officials pocket large sums of people’s money denying farmers of their right to the excise taxes.”
Tobacco farmers of Ilocos Norte have always hoped that they benefit from the funds from RA 7171 but officials allot the bulk of these for their own whims, Pugyao of the Ilocos Norte farmers’ group claimed, citing, “minicabs, mini trucks and buses procured by the provincial government never uplifted the well-being of the tobacco farmers.”
He explained that production subsidy and other funds allotted for tobacco farmers to cushion them when prices of tobacco leaves are down and when there are disasters have always been insignificant to them.
The current (Duterte) government can start providing the long-awaited justice by prosecuting and putting the corrupt officials of Ilocos Norte behind bars, Pugyao said, believing that “the provincial government of Ilocos Norte violated the implementing rules and regulations of RA 7171 when it purchased vehicles using the excise taxes from tobacco.”
Instead of rectifying this injustice, the provincial government is prioritizing the demand for the release from detention of those complicit with Governor Imee Marcos, he added.
Pugyao urged the six provincial officials being held in contempt since May 29 by the House of Representatives “to divulge the full extent of the misuse and abuse of the excise tax funds instead of withholding crucial information and acting as scapegoats for Governor Marcos.”  Shedding light on the transactions are their moral and official obligations to the farmers and the people of Ilocos Norte as a whole, he added. ACE ALEGRE / ABN

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