MANILA, Philippines –Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago on Tuesday said she would conduct her own probe into the millions of funds that Senate President Juan-Ponce Enrile gave to his allies in the Senate last year, aside from a case that she intends to file before the Supreme Court.
Only Santiago and three others in the minority group – Senate Leader Alan Peter Cayetano, his sister Pia Cayetano and Antonio “Sonny” Trillanes IV— did not get the P1.6-million additional maintenance and other operating expenses (MOOE) fund that Enrile gave to 18 senators last December.
The P1.6 million was the balance of the total P2.2 million additional MOOE allotted for each senator last year, which was sourced from the savings of the Senate.
“As soon as I am medically able, I shall call a public hearing of the Committee on Revision of Codes and Laws, which I chair, in order that we can have the benefit of your considered opinion on the constitutional and other issues that I have raised,” she said in her letter to Commission on Audit chairperson Ma. Gracia Pulido-Tan.
Santiago wrote Tan to request a written opinion on her January 10 letter to the COA, seeking an opinion on Enrile’s power over the use of the chamber’s budget.
The senator said she feared that the COA head might have been expressing a ‘casual opinion” when Tan told a television interview that the Senate leader has absolute power to realign the Senate savings into “Christmas bonuses.”
“As a student of constitutional law, I fear that you may have been expressing a casual opinion. Hence, I take the liberty of citing certain constitutional provisions which might be of help in your written compliance on my earlier request for opinion,” she said.
Santiago said she may use COA’s written opinion on the issue as a “basis for interpellation during my proposed hearing of the Committee on Revision of Codes and Laws, which I chair” and as “proof” that she has exhausted her administrative remedies before bringing the proper case in the Supreme Court.
She insisted that Enrile committed an act “tantamount to grave abuse of discretion, amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction, which can be questioned in the Supreme Court.”
The additional MOOE, the senator stressed, could not be used for cash gifts since she said its use is limited to the following items:
· Travel expenses
· Communication expenses
· Repairs and maintenance
· Transportation and delivery expenses
· Extraordinary and miscellaneous expenses
· Taxes, insurance premiums, and other fees
· Professional services
· Printing and binding expenses
· Advertising expenses
· Representation expenses
· Subscription expenses
· Membership dues and contributions to organizations
“Even if public officials like the Senate President are given the power to realign, that power, under the Constitution, should be exercised for a public purpose,” she said.
“And most importantly, the exercise of the power to realign should not be tainted by grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction. Otherwise, it becomes ripe for litigation before the Supreme Court.”
She said Enrile’s decision to exclude her and the three other senators from the augmented MOOE was a “shocking abuse of discretion amounting to lack of jurisdiction, under the Equal Protection Clause.”
Instead of using the Senate savings for other purposes, Santiago said Enrile should have just returned the money to the National Treasury.
“A fiscally responsible Senate President should be sensitive to the sources of financing – taxes and user charges paid for by the general public. A fiscally responsible Senate President should let the amount unused (or saved) revert to the National Treasury,” she said.
“Hence, the Senate would be able to reduce the amount of money that the government has to borrow to finance its operations,” she added.