Senate Minority Leader Alan Peter on Friday called on Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile to reveal how he liquidated the P250,000-per-senator cash gifts that he gave each senator last Christmas and how much of the almost P600 million in Senate funds for maintenance and other operating expenses (MOOE) were turned into savings and realigned for other purposes.
Cayetano said that as an alternative to Enrile’s producing the documents, he would file a resolution for a parallel audit in the Commission on Audit (COA), private audit under the COA or an independent people’s audit.
He claimed that Senators Francis Pangilinan and Panfilo Lacson favored his proposal.
Cayetano said he was preparing to file a resolution calling for an audit of the Senate’s finances to be jointly conducted by the COA and a private group.
Cayetano, who figured in a nasty verbal exchange with Enrile on the Senate floor last Wednesday over the latter’s unequal distribution of millions of pesos in Senate savings to the senators, pressed on with his demand that Enrile open the Senate books to an independent audit.
Enrile reportedly gave 18 senators P1.6 million each last December, later explained as MOOE funds, but raised the hackles of four senators—Miriam Defensor-Santiago, Pia Cayetano, Antonio Trillanes IV and Cayetano—who reportedly received only P250,000.
Enrile open to audit
Enrile has repeatedly said that he is open to an audit, even by private auditing firms, but that such a process has to be authorized by the whole Senate.
Senate President Pro Tempore Jinggoy Estrada, a close ally of Enrile, said he was for a joint audit by the COA and a private institution, but especially a COA audit.
“I favor the COA audit as the commission is constitutionally mandated to audit government funds. I am open to it for the sake of transparency,” he said.
Documents are available
Lawyer Jessica “Gigi” Reyes, Enrile’s resigned chief of staff, yesterday explained that the documents covering the almost P600 million MOOE can be accessed by parties other than those in the Office of the Senate President.
“The amount of almost P600 million actually represents the MOOE of the entire Senate Secretariat and, contrary to the allegations, all expenses charged to that account are covered by supporting documents and vouchers which are available for all in the Senate to see,” she said.
Cayetano claimed that only a certification was required of the Senate leadership on how the MOOE funds were spent and not actual receipts.
Less than forthcoming
Cayetano said he was reiterating his demand for an audit because Enrile has not been forthcoming with the documents.
“I don’t want to affect the health of Senate President Enrile but if I had the opportunity to reiterate my questions I will because he’s not answering them,” he said.
“For instance, I asked him how he liquidated the P250,000 cash gift. It’s not enough for him to say that they are senators and it’s up to them how they intend to use it. What if it’s used to buy a watch or to dine out?” he said.
He recalled that during the impeachment trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona, Enrile had stated that the Corona Supreme Court should have specified how the high tribunal spent its funds.
“Why is there a double standard? If it involves an ordinary public official, the one involved is detained and penalized. Why is it that if it involves them, no one is raising the issue?” he said.
Enrile has said that Senators Franklin Drilon and Edgardo Angara “kidded” him last December about the usual practice of making a part of the Senate’s savings available for the senators.
He said the P250,000 cash gift he gave were public funds and the senators should know it was to be spent for a public purpose.
But Cayetano said Enrile was trying to confuse the issue.
“The usual practice is the MOOE not the P250,000. Even if you look at the statement of [Reyes, Enrile’s resigned chief of staff]. What she said was, ‘They all received it in 2008, 2009, 2010.’ That’s the P1.6 million not the P250,000,” Cayetano said.
“There was no P250,000 in the past. If there was, no one knew about it. This is the first time that when I asked for the vouchers, there are still none,” he said.
Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III, an Enrile ally, said that there was indeed a customary practice of distributing to senators a certain amount from the Senate leader’s savings.
“That’s how I remember how it was. Perhaps [Cayetano] wasn’t given something before because he’s in the minority or for whatever reason,” Sotto said.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson, the chair of the Senate committee on accounts, said he didn’t receive the P250,000 last December.
“I wasn’t given that. I already checked and rechecked with my finance officer,” he said.
‘I know a lot of things’
At the same news conference, Cayetano denied having insinuated that Enrile and his resigned chief of staff were in a romantic relationship in his privilege speech last Wednesday.
“I didn’t mean that they are together. I meant that I know a lot of things about [the Senate President] and that I know a lot of things about Attorney Gigi,” he said.
Enrile said that if Cayetano was insinuating that he and Reyes were lovers, he was too old to engage in that sort of thing.
Reyes, in a statement, asked that Enrile’s family and hers “be spared from the hurt brought about by malicious insinuations and imputations regarding my personal relationship with the Senate President—just to whet the appetite for gossip.”
Lifestyle check urged
Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC) founding chair Dante Jimenez on Friday called for a lifestyle check on all senators, as well as Enrile’s chief of staff.
“All of them involved in the scandal must undergo a lifestyle check. Senators must stop their personal attacks and instead start the investigation and reforms in handling the taxpayers’ money,” Jimenez said in a phone interview.
He also urged the senators who received the cash gift to return the money to the National Treasury for reallocation, as the VACC has stated in its complaint at the Senate ethics committee. With a report from Julie M. Aurelio