Senators didn’t have all the fun last Christmas.
There was apparently no “naughty” or “nice” list for the House of Representatives, with all 283 lawmakers each receiving P500,000 from the House leadership before they went on their monthlong break last month.
Each member received approximately the same amount. The amounts added up to P141.5 million for all the representatives.
At least four lawmakers confirmed receiving P500,000 last month.
Two representatives belonging to the majority coalition also confirmed receipt of the P500,000 from Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr.
The amount was 43 percent more than that the P350,000 they usually got from the Speaker in the first two Christmases under the Aquino administration.
One of the lawmakers said that the bonanza was no coincidence considering that 2012 was an exceptionally fruitful year for Congress—from the impeachment of former Chief Justice Renato Corona to the passage of the sin tax and reproductive health bills.
The House accounts committee chief, An Waray Rep. Florencio Noel, said in a phone interview that the P500,000 given to lawmakers were not bonuses, and were for maintenance and other operating expenses (MOOE).
The MOOE refers to costs necessary for an agency’s regular operations, such as traveling expenses, training and seminar expenses, water, electricity and supplies expenses, and the maintenance of their properties or offices.
Noel, who handles the internal budget of the House, said the usual MOOE was P300,000, but this was increased to P500,000 during the holiday season so that lawmakers could give Christmas bonuses or 13th month pay to their district employees who are not entitled to additional benefits.
The MOOE is also supposed to be used for transportation costs and other district-related activities of the lawmakers, he said.
‘Not a bonus’
Noel said all lawmakers received more or less the same amount, with some receiving some P10,000 more because transportation costs for returning to their hometowns were higher.
“That’s not a bonus. It would be difficult for us to give a bonus because the budget for 2012 is the same as the budget for 2011 when there were fewer lawmakers, which leaves us without elbow room for bonuses,” he said.
Minority Leader Danilo Suarez said he received a check from the House leadership last December, but said he could not recall the exact amount. But he said the additional funds were for staff members or consultants who did not have Christmas bonuses.
Suarez also said it had been the practice in the House every Christmas season for the leadership to give additional funds, and he had experienced it in his nine years in Congress.
One lawmaker, speaking anonymously so as not to incur the ire of colleagues who may not want the matter discussed, said he received P500,000 in MOOE last December, and added that it was different from the regular budget of his office.
Another lawmaker said he received a check for P600,000, but explained that the amount included his 13th month pay. A lawmaker’s monthly salary is about P90,000. He described the amount lawmakers received as a “bonus.”
Lawmakers need extra funds
A third representative said he had already exhausted the P500,000, which included the regular MOOE given to House members, plus an additional amount.
He said lawmakers needed the extra funds to go around their districts and see their constituents, especially since it was the holidays.
He also surmised that he and his colleagues received a smaller amount than senators because there were more House members.
“If we would receive the same amount that JPE [Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile] gave, the country’s money would run out,” he jokingly said.
Enrile gave P1.6 million in additional MOOE to 18 senators, but gave four others only P250,000. The four senators who got the relatively puny amount were known enemies of the Senate chief.
The Inquirer source said the Commission on Audit could still audit the release of this bonus and choose to disallow it should it find the transaction illegal.
The source noted that the P500,000 given to representatives was proportional to the P1.6 million given to each senator based on their annual pork barrel allocations and that this was not just a mere coincidence.
The P500,000 bonus is 0.71 percent of a representative’s P70 million pork barrel, while the P1.6 milllion bonus is 0.8 percent of a senator’s P200-million pork barrel.