Lacson rues: We’re all losersBy Norman Bordadora
Philippine Daily Inquirer
There were no winners; just losers.
Sen. Panfilo “Ping” Lacson came up with this assessment amid the controversy over the conversion of millions of pesos in excess Senate funds into cash “gifts” and “bonuses” just before Christmas for two groups of senators—those favored by Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and those who were not.
To save the chamber’s image, Lacson called for a “no-holds-barred” audit of the Senate’s finances.
He agreed with the observation that the Senate may have lost its moral ascendancy to conduct inquiries into alleged corruption in government after an ugly quarrel between the Senate President and the minority leader over the use of Senate funds.
“Definitely. It’s not just the moral ascendancy of the Senate. Let’s face it. Our well-being, whether as institution or individual senators, largely depends on public perception, our image,” Lacson told reporters ironically after the Senate blue ribbon committee held an inquiry into the alleged misuse of billions of pesos in Malampaya funds.
Lacson, the chairman of the Senate committee on accounts, said “the Senate will be nothing” with the bad public image.
He made the comments a day after Enrile and Senate Minority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano exchanged insinuations of impropriety in a heated argument on the Senate floor on Wednesday.
Cayetano’s main issue with Enrile was the latter’s distribution of P250,000 to each senator as a gift last December.
He, however, also made an issue over the apparent influence wielded on the chamber by Enrile’s chief of staff, lawyer Jessica “Gigi” Reyes.
Enrile explained that the “cash gift” of P250,000 for each senator constituted public funds that should be used for the public good.
He made the explanation after he told Cayetano that the latter’s late father still owed their law firm P37 million.
The minority leader said it was Reyes who issued handwritten instructions for the release of P1.6 million in maintenance and other operating expenses (MOOE) to each of 18 senators except Cayetano and three other senators—Miriam Defensor-Santiago, Pia Cayetano and Antonio Trillanes IV.
Santiago said on Jan. 22 that she would conduct a probe of the Senate President’s release of funds for MOOE just before Christmas. She claimed that Enrile had no authority to realign savings into Christmas bonuses.
Joint panel of auditors
“The Senate is the loser. Nobody is the winner. Hopefully somebody will win when the logical conclusion is reached and that should be the Filipino people,” Lacson said.
Lacson said the senators should brace themselves for a “no-holds-barred” audit to bring back the trust and confidence of the public to the level before the controversy erupted weeks ago.
Unlike Cayetano, who’s pushing for an independent audit by a private auditing firm, Lacson said the Commission on Audit (COA) should conduct the audit.
An audit by a private firm, he said, could be too expensive and would indicate a lack of trust in the COA, a constitutional agency.
Sen. Francis Pangilinan, a member of President Aquino’s Liberal Party, said the audit should be done by a joint panel made of government and private auditors.
“It would be best for the Senate as an institution to have definitive findings regarding the controversy of the use of its funds,” said Pangilinan, who like Lacson, is on the last months of a two-term, 12-year stint in the Senate.
“If allowed under our laws, a joint panel composed of the COA and a private auditing firm may help put a closure to the issue,” Pangilinan said in a text message.
Sen. Francis Escudero, the chairman of the Senate committee on justice and human rights, said what happened between Enrile and Cayetano was “unfortunate.”
“But I am of the firm belief that the protagonists will rise above personal differences and will be able to focus on the job at hand,” Escudero said in a text message.
“[The] Senate as an institution will overcome this difficult stage and perform its constitutionally mandated functions,” he added in response to whether the integrity of the Senate was affected by the controversy.
Enrile said he was open to an independent audit but added that the matter was up to the Senate to decide as a whole.
Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III downplayed the effects of the issue on the Senate.
“If the Senate President or the Senate is violating any law, the first to complain will be the LP [Liberal Party senators] and [maverick lawmaker Senator] Joker [Arroyo],” Sotto said in a text message.
Sotto said Enrile had already satisfactorily explained his yearend release of P1.6 million in additional MOOE to all but four senators and the P250,000 in cash gifts.
“It’s only the anti-Enrile camp that’s complaining. Read between the lines. Politicians are already on election mode,” Sotto said.