Senate controversy casts doubt on creation of ‘oversight committees’
MANILA, Philippines—The controversy over how Senate funds are used has not only spawned a clamor among the senators for an audit of the chamber’s expenses, it has also placed in question the wisdom of the creation of oversight committees with fund allocations that ran up to more than P400 million in 2012.
Senator Aquilino Pimentel III last week filed Senate Resolution 930 urging the appropriate Senate committees to review the creation and the budgets for oversight committees for the purpose of cutting down on expenses and saving taxpayers’ money.
In his draft resolution, Pimentel indicated his preference for the abolition of the oversight committees and to give their functions to the existing regular committees of the Senate.
“[There] is a need to review and to rationalize the manner with which the Senate has been creating and budgeting for Oversight Committees, not only in order to minimize internal squabbling over Senate resources but more importantly to help ease the Filipino taxpayers’ burden by the more efficient use of taxpayers’ money,” Pimentel said in the proposed resolution.
“[A] possible better alternative to the creation of oversight committees separate and independent of the regular committees is to already incorporate the oversight function into the usual functions of the regular committees,” Pimentel said.
Oversight committees monitor the executive branch’s implementation of laws passed by Congress.
Pimentel expects his suggestion to save millions of pesos in taxpayers’ money, saying even a modest increase in the standard budget of a regular committee to accommodate the additional oversight function will still result in less operational costs.
Pimented cited the huge difference in the budget allocations for the oversight committees, with the congressional commission on agricultural modernization being allocated more than P37.8 million in the 2012 national budget while the oversight panels on the Biofuels Act, on the Philippine Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act and on the Special Purpose Vehicle Act got just P5 million each.
He added that there were 35 oversight committees in 2012.
The 2012 General Appropriations Act showed that aside from the congressional commission on agricultural modernization, other oversight committees with huge allocations include the congressional commission on science and technology and engineering with P36 million; the congressional oversight committee on labor and employment, P28.3 million; the joint congressional power commission, P25 million; and the legislative oversight committee on the PH-US Visiting Forces Agreement, P18.1 million.
“[The] above proposed alternative would be fairer in the sense that all oversight functions would be funded equally and equitably,” Pimentel said.
Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III welcomed Pimentel’s initiative for a review of the creation of the oversight committees.
“The Senate President [Juan Ponce Enrile] and I have been talking about that since 2011. There are oversight committees created by law and therefore official but others are not,” Sotto said in a text message. “So a review is in order.”
On Pimentel’s suggestion that the oversight functions be given to the regular committees, Sotto said, “That’s possible but only to oversight committees that were not created by law.”
Senator Panfilo Lacson, the chair of the Senate committee on accounts, said the chamber already reviewed the allocations of the different oversight committees after the impeachment trial last year.
“We already did a review of the budgets of the different oversight committees after the impeachment trial last year in order to rationalize and make equitable the funding of the different oversight committees,” Lacson said in a text message.
“Senator [Franklin] Drilon and I were tasked by the Senate President to undertake the same and we already submitted our recommendation,” Lacson added.