Despite hypertension and bone marrow problems, Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago on Tuesday indicated her intention to conduct an inquiry into Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile’s release of funds for “maintenance and other operating expenditures” (MOOE) just before Christmas.
In a letter to Commission on Audit (COA) Chairperson Grace Pulido-Tan, Santiago disagreed with the COA’s position that Enrile had the authority “to realign savings into Christmas bonuses.”
She said Tan’s explanation would be used in an inquiry by the Senate committee on revision of codes and laws. Santiago, chairperson of the panel, added that Tan’s reply could also serve as basis for bringing a case questioning Enrile’s action in the Supreme Court.
“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,” Santiago said.
The general appropriations act is not a blanket authority for realignment, she said.
“It is necessary that the budgetary item that will be augmented exists. Savings cannot be used to fund a nonexistent program, activity, or project,” Santiago said, citing the Constitution.
“The consensus among the budget authorities in our country is that in the absence of any request for augmentation, none should be given,” she said, noting that no senator had made a request for additional funds to cover office expenses.
Santiago said 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,” Santiago said.
“The exclusion, for no stated reason, of four senators from the alleged augmented MOOE is a shocking abuse of discretion amounting to lack of jurisdiction, under the Equal Protection Clause,” she added.
Senators Antonio Trillanes IV and Alan Peter and his sister Pia Cayetano also did not receive the additional office expenses.
“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. Hence, the Senate would be able to reduce the amount of money that the government has to borrow to finance its operations,” Santiago said.
“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 added.
Bring it on
Sought for comment, Enrile said: “If there is a grave abuse of discretion then she can file a case in the Supreme Court. That is the best thing to do.”
“So I think I would suggest to her, instead of just talking to the people without putting into action what she believes to be her truth, then she should take the necessary action so that we, who are being accused, we are given our day to defend ourselves in the proper forum,” Enrile told reporters at the launch of a book on the impeachment of former Chief Justice Renato Corona.
Enrile, however, expressed doubts Santiago could conduct a hearing on his handing out P1.6 million to each of the 18 “nice” senators and P250,000 to four “naughty” ones.
“I do not know whether she has the jurisdiction,” Enrile said.
Sen. Pia Cayetano on Tuesday said that she would donate the P250,000 cash gift to the Department of Social Welfare and Development’s (DSWD) programs for abandoned and homeless
The senator’s brother, Senate Minority Floor Leader Alan Cayetano, said he would press for an independent audit of Senate funds and for an explanation of Enrile’s distribution to senators of the chamber’s savings.
“It was just before Christmas that I received a P250,000 check. It was my staff who noticed that said check came from the office of the Senate President,” Pia Cayetano said in the plenary.
“I could not assume that this was MOOE because that is usually given by way of a check from the Senate of the Philippines and not the office of the Senate President. Since I did not know what it was for, I did not deposit it,” she added.
Pia Cayetano also addressed her office’s exclusion from the larger “bonus.”
“I humbly ask, why was I excluded? I do not know the reason why. Am I being penalized for speaking my mind and for pushing for legislation that is contrary to the views of the Senate leadership?
“I cannot apologize for the stand I have taken on the RH and sin tax laws. And if this is the price I have pay to fight for the things I believe in, then I will accept the imputations that come with my job,” she said.
Pia Cayetano was the sponsor of the Reproductive Health Bill that Enrile opposed. She also supported the Sin Tax Reform measure that Enrile also voted against.