MANILA, Philippines—The Senate is set to take steps to change the way the chamber uses its billions annually following the controversy over the maintenance and other operating expenses (MOOE) of senators.
Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile is proposing a review of Senate oversight committees with multimillion-peso allocations and the abolition of those that have become irrelevant.
In pushing for the review, Enrile said, “The disparities in the budgets of these committees, and the chairmanships/co-chairmanships which are mostly mandated by law to be given to the chairmen of the relevant permanent committees of the Senate and House naturally result in unequal distribution of these committees and their budgets among the senators.”
“Some are chairing only one oversight committee, others, two or even three, but that is largely due to their chairmanship of the permanent committees. This has been a festering issue especially for me as Senate President because to equalize everyone is close to impossible under these circumstances,” Enrile said.
Enrile said the Senate has 37 permanent committees but the number of oversight committees had swelled to 33 over the years.
“Now, I am being blamed for this proliferation of oversight committees and the huge total budgetary allocation for them. We have to set the record straight.”
Enrile said the increase in the number and budgets of oversight committees in the Senate had more than doubled since 2010 largely because “new laws were passed which also created new oversight committees.”
In a statement on Friday, Enrile said that both the Senate and the House of Representatives should seriously consider a review of the budgets of the oversight committees and if necessary to “reduce their budgets if found excessive, or even to abolish those that are no longer relevant or needed.”
Enrile also wants a moratorium on the creation of more oversight committees while the review is being undertaken.
“After all, the matter of the proper implementation of the laws we pass rests on the executive branch,” Enrile said.
Enrile made the proposal after the Inquirer reported that the Senate’s funding for the MOOE of oversight committees more than doubled to P450 million since President Aquino took office in 2010.
Through Concurrent Resolution No. 10 passed by both houses, the amount could be liquidated through mere certifications signed by lawmakers without need of presenting receipts.
Enrile and House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte earlier this week also agreed with Commission on Audit chair Grace Pulido-Tan to do away with Congress’ practice of liquidating its millions of pesos in MOOE through certifications signed by lawmakers without the submission of supporting receipts and other documents.
But Sen. Panfilo Lacson said on Wednesday that Congress had done away with its practice of liquidating millions of pesos for MOOE through certifications.
Lacson, chair of the Senate committee on accounts, made the disclosure following the meeting on Wednesday between congressional leaders and the COA chair.
Enrile, Belmonte and An-Waray party-list Rep. Florencio Noel, chair of the House accounts panel, also attended the meeting.
“(We) agreed to submit ourselves to the disposition of COA and COA explicitly expressed that it would no longer accept liquidation by certification, at least prospectively, starting 2013,” Lacson said.
The development came in the wake of the Senate funds controversy triggered by Enrile’s release in December of P1.6 million in additional MOOE to each of 18 senators and his grant of P250,000 each to all his colleagues from his office’s savings.
Enrile has stood by the regularity of the fund releases, saying they were public funds that the senators know should be spent for a public purpose.
Minority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano, who engaged Enrile in a bitter exchange in the Senate plenary over the use of Senate funds, acknowledged that the decision to follow COA’s strict rules on liquidation of expenses “was a good first step.”
Cayetano, nonetheless, said the COA should hold accountable those who may have violated laws in the course of using the Senate’s funds.
“We cannot sweep this under the rug,” Cayetano said in a telephone interview. “The Senate President and the Senate should clear its name or claim responsibility. So let’s sue whoever needs to be punished.”
Cayetano wants to know how much of the Senate’s P2 billion budget in 2012 was liquidated through certification and how the P250,000 per senator released in December was reported as an expense.