Senators’ hefty budget bared
MANILA, Philippines – Senate President Juan Ponce-Enrile opened a can of worms on Wednesday when he admitted giving 18 senators a total of P2.2 million each last year while exposing the hefty budget as much as P25 million that his known foes in the Senate have been allegedly getting for their committees.
Enrile, in a statement on Wednesday, disclosed that Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago’s committee on constitutional amendments and two oversight committees have annual budgets of P15 million and P10 million.
Senator Antonio “Sonny” Trillanes IV’s civil service and over sight committees, on the other hand, have been getting P10 million every year, which was recently raised to P15 million, said the Senate leader.
Enrile said Senate Minority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano as a member of the Commission on Appointments has a “bigger” budget than the other senators.
Aside from Cayetano’s membership in the CA, Enrile said the opposition leader also chairs the E-Commerce oversight committee with an annual budget of P6 million and of the new oversight committee on BCDA with an annual budget of P10 million.
Cayetano’s eldest sister, Senator Pia Cayetano, also chairs the committee on health, committee on youth, women and family relations and the Clean Water Act oversight committee with an annual budget of P10 million, he said.
“Sen. Joker Arroyo is the only member of the minority who really and actually acts as a member of the minority, doing his job at fiscalizing even more than the Minority Floor Leader,” Enrile said.
“He (Arroyo) declined to chair any committee, regular or oversight, so unlike the Cayetano siblings,” he added.
But in a separate statement, Santiago alleged that each senator has been receiving P2.2 million every month supposedly for “staff salaries and office expenses.”
“The monthly office appropriation of P2.2 million is discretionary. How it is spent depends on the discretion of the senator. The senator can pocket the money if he wants to,” she said.
“The senator can play around with this P 2.2 million. If he does not hire staff, or does not spend for office rental and supplies, he gets to keep the P 2.2 million or any residual amount for himself,” she further said.
“For a senator with an annual pork barrel of P200 million, the annual kickback is usually P20 million, or a total kickback in six years of P120 million. For a representative with annual pork barrel of P70 million, the usual annual kickback is P7 million, or a total kickback every three years of P21 million,” Santiago said.
She was referring to the P200 million and P70 million annual allocation known as “pork barrel” that each senator and congressmen has been getting, respectively.
To ensure transparency, Santiago then called on the Commission on Audit to examine and audit the so-called “savings” or “secret funds” available to the Senate President, to the Speaker, and other heads of offices.
“The so-called savings of each public office has turned into a national scandal, the grandmamma of all scandals. The Constitution allows savings to be used by the office at the end of the year. But in reality, the head of office manipulates the books and creates so-called savings, by refusing to fill up vacancies, or refusing to buy essential office supplies or services, or capital equipment. These so-called ‘enforced savings’ are then distributed among the highest officials, in the guise of Christmas bonuses,” she said.
The exchange of accusations came after Enrile confirmed the Philippine Daily Inquirer report that he gave additional maintenance and other operating expenses (MOOE) amounting to P1.6 million each to 18 senators in December, 2012.
The amount, he said, was the balance of the P2.218 million additional MOOE, which was sources sourced from the savings of the Senate and was supposedly given for each of the 23 senators.
He said the first tranche, which is P600,000, was given to the senators in November, 2012. The remaining P1.6 million was released last month in two tranches – P1.3 million and P318,000 but not all 23 senators have received them.
Enrile said he and four others— Santiago, Trillanes, and the two Cayetanos- did not get the two tranches.
“I confirm that I gave the instructions to my Chief of Staff to exclude me and the four other senators in the succeeding releases of any further additional MOOE,” he said.
“I also confirm that, as requested by the Senate Budget office, I approved the use of the amounts that I waived and those that I did not authorize to be released to the 4 senators to be used by the Senate for its other expenditures. This is all on record,” he said.
But Enrile denied that the four did not get any additional MOOE.
“They each got P600,000. On top of that, I have approved all their requests for cash advances, realignment of various items in their respective senator’s, Committee and Oversight Committee budgets to their MOOE so that they could use the same and any savings therefrom,” he said.
Enrile explained that any additional MOOE approved by the Senate President for each senator was not a “matter of entitlement neither should such be mistaken as taken from the Senate President’s discretionary funds.”
“The expenditures charged to the OSP’s discretionary funds are properly documented and I have made the same available even for the contingencies of the Secretariat and the needs of some Committees and Senators, as they would request from time to time,” he said.
“While it is said to be purely discretionary on the part of the Senate President what additional budget to grant out of savings, or to give any at all for that matter, I have exercised such discretion with prudence and equity, and I have given the maximum that we could grant to all the Senators concerned.”
“I stand by the exercise of my sole discretion not to authorize any further releases of additional MOOE last December to the four senators. It is time to call a spade a spade,” he added.
Enrile pointed out that Trillanes and the Cayetano siblings belong to the minority group while Santiago’s membership in the majority was “questionable” since he said the latter has publicly and repeatedly denounced and attacked him.
He said he has been giving additional MOOE to all senators since he became Senate President in 2008 but no one questioned it before.
For 2008, Enrile said he authorized the release of P1 million additional MOOE for each senator, another P1 million in 2009; a total of P1.6 million in 2010; and a total of P2.1 million in 2011.
“All the senators, including those now complaining or calling it “unconscionable” and “unconstitutional” received these amounts. Yet they never said anything nor questioned it before,” he said.
Enrile also confirmed giving all senators a P250,000 Christmas bonus each, which he sourced from the savings of his own office.
“Regarding the P250,000 checks from my office which I gave to all the senators, that was a result of the “lambing”of some senators who I will no longer name, if I had some “pamasko” (Christmas gifts) for them,” he said.
“I decided to give to all, not only to those who were teasing me about “pamasko”, out of my own office’s savings and not from the Senate President’s discretionary funds,” he added.
But Enrile said he was informed last Monday that Santiago returned the check that he gave her.
“ I was told that Sen. Santiago sent me back a check for the same amount of P250,000 with a letter from her Chief of Staff explaining that the check I gave was inadvertently deposited. So Sen. Santiago gave back my gift, as I gave back hers. Fair enough.”
Enrile clarified that the additional fund and Christmas gift that he gave to his colleagues was not a bribe just to keep his post.
“I was elected as Senate President twice and I can look at anyone straight in the eye in saying that I did not buy this position. Not one single centavo of the people’s money is spent just to enable me to cling to this office,” he said.