Senators’ gifts a time-honored tradition–AngaraBy Cathy Yamsuan |Philippine Daily Inquirer
It was the “uneven” distribution of the cash that is at the heart of the brouhaha over Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile’s grant of “Christmas gifts”—later explained as additional funds for office expenses—from the Senate’s savings, according to Sen. Edgardo Angara.
Angara, who is himself a former Senate president, said he may have done the same in his time, that is, realigned the Senate’s savings and distributed the funds to colleagues as additional “maintenance and other operating expenditures” (MOOE).
“I must have but I don’t recall. I think that kind of realignment is part of Senate procedure. It is authorized under the (General Appropriations Act) and is honored by tradition,” Angara said.
He said the only controversy was the lopsided distribution, with 18 out of the 23 senators getting P1.6 million each and 4 getting only P250,000. (Enrile earlier said he waived his share of the loot.)
“(The budget for) maintenance should be equal (for all senators). You cannot say your neighbor spends less for maintenance,” said Angara.
It was Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago who first confirmed that she and Senators Alan Peter Cayetano, Pia Cayetano and Antonio Trillanes IV did not receive the P1.6 million in additional MOOE.
In an interview with Radyo Inquirer, Santiago noted that those who were not given the additional MOOE were at odds with Enrile at one time or another.
The four, however, received a P250,000 “cash gift” that Enrile said came from his office’s savings.
Santiago has returned the gift, saying she did so since Enrile also returned the cookies she gave him for Christmas.
But Angara said he would not take it against Enrile for being selective in his distribution of the funds.
“I’m not saying it’s the fault of the Senate President, it’s his judgment call. But the only reason that questions are being raised is because not all received the same amount,” he explained.
Angara said he was not even aware that his office received an additional MOOE as this is a yearend practice that is “a routine and regular occurrence that senators take it for granted.”
“It’s not something unexpected or surprising,” he said.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson questioned Santiago’s making an issue of the MOOE. He said Santiago may not have received the P1.6 million MOOE given last December but she definitely got the allocation given in November but did not raise a howl about it.
Angara, however, noted that the MOOE for a specific year had to be used during that period as Santiago has asserted.
Santiago questioned the distribution of additional MOOE in December when all official business transactions of the Senate should have been completed by then.
Angara said MOOE is used for day-to-day expenses like office supplies, rentals, electricity and “coffee for guests.”