Lingayen—A group of tobacco farmers from Pangasinan filed plunder charges against former Congressman Mark Cojuangco last week over alleged misuse of close to P600 million in tobacco taxes the former lawmaker got on behalf of farmers.
Leaders of the Central and Northern Luzon Tobacco Farmers Association who brought the complaint to the Office of the Ombudsman in Quezon City alleged that the former lawmaker and his wife, Kimi Cojuangco, misused the shares of the towns of Alcala, Villasis, Sison and Sto. Tomas released to them from 2010 to 2012.
The tobacco taxes were used by the couple in projects that violated the native and burley tobacco excise tax law (R.A. 7080) which identified specific projects in which the taxes could be used to benefit farmers, said Ruben Lagmay, president of the association.
The biggest project was a P1-billion dairy farm in the town of Laoac completed in 2012 but recently closed shop, the farmers charged.
Cojuangco, however, brushed aside the farmers’ complaint as a diversionary tactic of his political rivals.
“The record speaks for itself. There were no anomalies whatsoever in any of the transactions involving the tobacco excise taxes,” Cojuangco said.
After the same farmer group recently held a protest rally at the closed dairy farm, Cojuangco said the bulk of the expenditures were sourced from his pork barrel since 2004 and contributed by the Department of Agriculture and the National Dairy Authority.
The facility, he claimed, had not been closed but only suspended operations and will be reopened after the May elections.
Lagmay and his group also said that the P200-million corn-drying facility that Cojuangco built in Alcala town was designed and operated for use by big land owners and corn traders at drying capacity of 1,000 bags of corn a day.
“Small farmers, whose corn harvests averaged less than 100 cavans per hectare, were rejected from using the facility,” Lagmay complained.
The farmers were questioning Cojuangco’s 80-percent share from excise taxes for the 5th district of Pangasinan which was released before the 2010 elections. The counterpart shares of the tobacco-producing towns were 10 percent while the provincial government got another 10 percent.
Shares of local governments for 10 years were released in the eve of the elections of 2010. Releases were then made yearly the latest of which was reportedly released when the President visited the province last week.