Senate funding for oversight committees in the form of maintenance and other operating expenses (MOOE), the unused amounts of which the Commission on Audit (COA) cannot examine, more than doubled to about P450 million since President Aquino took office three years ago.
The amount, which can be liquidated on a mere certification from a lawmaker, was on top of the more than P1 billion that senators get for regular committees.
Based on data culled from the Department of Budget and Management website, Senate funds for MOOE surged to P442.415 million in 2012 and to P428 million this year from only P212.398 million in 2010 and P209.898 million in 2011.
The funds are in addition to the amounts—which declined from P1.338 billion in 2010 to P1.148 billion in 2013—that the Senate sets aside for its 39 regular committees.
During the same period, the number of oversight committees in the 23-member Senate swelled from 19 in 2010 to 32 in 2012 and 34 in 2013.
The jump in the number of oversight committees and their MOOE was initiated by the Senate in 2011, the year Malacañang and Congress attacked the judiciary for abusing its own Miscellaneous Personnel Benefits Fund (MPBF). Magistrates can realign the fund, meant to fill jobs in the judiciary, for other purposes such as bonuses.
By contrast, the 285-member House of Representatives saw its MOOE for special projects increase by 13 percent from P259.342 million in 2010 to P294.342 million in 2013.
The number of oversight committees in the House expanded from 24 to 29 during the period.
To prepare for the increase in the Senate’s MOOE in 2012, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. were authorized to use mere certifications in liquidating the unused MOOE from their regular and oversight committees.
This was confirmed by Sen. Panfilo Lacson who said that Congress had to resort to this loose type of liquidation in order to accommodate the flood of people going to their offices seeking financial assistance.
“Some of them are sick, some of them are asking for scholarships. There are so many of them visiting us every day. We cannot turn them away and more often, we are being fooled because some of these people are just taking turns asking for money,” Lacson said in a radio interview.
He said senators could not “possibly track down how the funds we give them are used.”
Lacson suggested that Congress come out with a concurrent resolution to produce more concrete documents for liquidating MOOE.
He acknowledged the complaints from several senators over the disparity in the budgets for the oversight committees. “Some receive as high as P25 million while some get only P3 million,” he said.
Lacson said this was the reason Sen. Franklin Drilon was assigned to rationalize the budget of the oversight committees.
“There were personal appeals from some senators not to touch their budget in the oversight committees. But I don’t know what was the final decision of the Senate President, who always wanted to give priority to Senate employees in the distribution of excess funds, especially those with small salaries like janitors,” Lacson said.
Drilon did not respond to the Inquirer’s calls.
Lacson said some oversight committees had bigger budgets than regular committees although he pointed out that some budgets for oversight committees were mandated under the law.
“I’ve never looked into the details of how the funds of the oversight committees have been used because we leave it to the committee secretary. I only get to taste the coffee and soft drinks during hearings,” he said.
Lacson said the MOOE was different from the P200 million in annual pork barrel for each senator because all government agencies were entitled to the MOOE whose use was dependent on the budget officer.
A senator’s MOOE can be further augmented by the savings from the nonutilization of funds for personal services and capital outlays, according to Lacson.
Abad declines comment
Budget Secretary Florencio Abad Jr. declined to comment on the finances of the Senate, saying it was a separate branch of government.
He said the Senate was in a better position to explain why it needed additional oversight committees.
“As to expenditures made on those committees, it is COA which looks into the legal basis and reasonability of allocations,” Abad said.
A senator, who declined to be named because of the sensitivity of the issue, said all senators, including the minority, were aware of the expansion in the number of committees and MOOE since 2012.
Based on the data from the Senate website, the four senators who have complained about the unequal cash “gifts” and “bonuses” that Enrile gave to senators before Christmas were more than well-represented in the oversight committees
Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago is chair of two committees and a member of three others; Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano is chair of two committees and a member in 12 others; Sen. Pia Cayetano is a chair of one committee and a member in 16 others; and Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV is chair of one committee and a member in six others.
Senators Francis Escudero, Gregorio Honsasan and Ferdinand Marcos Jr. each chair three committees.