Santiago blows lid off Senate perksBy Gil C. Cabacungan
Philippine Daily Inquirer
MANILA, Philippines—Why do senators covet leadership posts and committees?
In a speech before members of the Philippine Institute of Certified Public Accountants, Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago said that Senate officers Juan Ponce Enrile (President), Jinggoy Estrada (Pro-tempore), Vicente Sotto III (Majority Leader) and Alan Peter Cayetano (Minority Leader) enjoyed a premium of between 21 percent and 166 percent over the average P43 million in “personal income” received annually by regular senators.
Santiago said that based on a 2011 Commission on Audit report, the top four Senate officers got the four biggest spending budgets among the 23 senators—Enrile, with a total of P118 million, Estrada with P62 million, Sotto with P56 million and Cayetano with P55 million—due to the honorarium reserved for their positions.
Santiago said the officers’ salaries were further boosted by their memberships in regular committees, oversight committees and the Commission on Appointment (additional P50,000 each per month).
“A senator’s annual gross salary is some P1 million. But on the average, a senator is a member of seven oversight committees. Thus, he receives P2.5 million annually in so-called extraordinary and miscellaneous expenses or EME. The EME that he receives is more than double his salary, which is not equitable,” said Santiago, who proposed that the extra income for membership in committees should be capped at P500,000 a year.
Aside from receiving nearly triple what the average senator received, Santiago said that Enrile as Senate President also controlled 50 percent of the Senate’s budget.
“Immediate past experience shows us that the amount known as ‘additional MOOE’ (maintenance and other operating expenses) becomes the personal pork barrel of the Senate President. In the hands of a corrupt Senate President, this discretionary power over the additional MOOE becomes a tool not only of corruption, but also of oppression and of ugly politics,” said Santiago, who was among four senators who did not receive a P1.6 million cash gift from Enrile last year.
Santiago proposed that the power to control the Senate budget should be transferred from the Senate President to the entire body. She said the Senate President should also give up his powers to reallocate the savings of the Senate to his chosen senators.
“Just because one senator has left his office is no reason to avail of the monies allocated for his office as additional MOOE. It makes the additional MOOE the personal pork barrel of the Senate President,” said Santiago.
“Savings, which were previously realigned as additional MOOE, should be returned to the Senate. I did this in good faith during my first year as senator, but was roundly attacked by my colleagues who resented what I did, because it showed how much they kept for themselves,” she said.
Santiago added she would push for the imposition of a more stringent liquidation system using receipts and other official documents.
“The Senate is rethinking the previous policy of Mr. Enrile, that certain amounts received by a senator could be liquidated by simply signing a certification that the money had been spent. The new Senate that opens this July will have the power to retain or to reform the system. This will need the majority vote of the senators from the current policy of mere certification,” said Santiago.