Senators leave decision on panels hanging

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Senate leaders are leaving it to the next batch of senators in the 16th Congress to decide whether or not to trim the present 35 oversight committees that have duplicate functions.

Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile noted that the upper chamber had three session days remaining between Monday and Wednesday.

“Once the new senators are here, they would be the ones to face that issue. We only have three days to legislate,” he said in a radio interview Sunday.

Enrile would not say, however, which oversight panels he thought the Senate could do away with.

Senate finance chair Franklin Drilon also cited the “reality” of the chamber’s tight schedule, given the pressure to approve within the next three days urgent measures such as the Anti-Money Laundering Act (Amla).

“Whatever action that can be done would have to be done in the next Congress,” he said in a separate interview, noting the need to trim the number of oversight committees.

The issue of Senate oversight committees surfaced after some members raised a furor over Enrile’s distribution of additional maintenance and other operating expenditures (MOOE) to only 18 senators.

Enrile said those who did not receive additional MOOE were already chairs of Senate committees—some of them oversight—and were members of the minority.

Sen. Aquilino Pimentel III has filed a resolution calling for a review of the “creation and budgeting” of oversight committees “to rationalize the process and… save taxpayer money.”

Pimentel noted that the 35 Senate oversight committees had annual budgets ranging from P5 million to P38 million.

Enrile and Drilon noted separately that while the Senate can pass a new resolution dissolving an oversight committee created through a resolution, it would take an act of Congress to dissolve an oversight committee created by law.

“Some of (these committees) are mandated by law and it would require more than Senate action to do away with them,” Drilon said.

Enrile noted that the number and the budgets of oversight committees in the Senate had “more than doubled since 2010” as new laws were passed that also created new oversight committees.

These included the oversight committee on agrarian reform, oversight committee on disaster risk reduction and management act, oversight committee on tourism, oversight committee on public expenditure and oversight committee on overseas workers affairs.

Oversight committees created through Senate resolutions during the same period included the select oversight committee on intelligence funds and the oversight committee on local government.

“I am well aware of concerns raised over the disparity in the budgets of the oversight committees. Some oversight committees have bigger budgets than regular committees. This is due to the scope of their work and the fact that even the budgetary allocations of some oversight committees are mandated by law, meaning the laws creating such committees specify how much allocation each committee gets each year,” Enrile said.

The Senate President has ordered Drilon and Senate accounts chairmen Panfilo Lacson to head the review of the oversight committees.

Pimentel suggested that the functions of an oversight committee be integrated with those of the regular or permanent Senate committee whose functions are related and whose chairs are more often the same individual.

“Even an increase of a modest amount in the standard budget of a regular committee in order to accommodate the additional oversight function will still save taxpayers money,” Pimentel said.

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Tags: 16th Congress , Juan Ponce Enrile , oversight committees , Philippines , Senate

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