‘Santiago may rent space in her building’

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Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago. INQUIRER.net photo

MANILA, Philippines—The Senate legal counsel has upheld Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago’s right to choose where to put her satellite office.

In a legal opinion issued recently, Senate counsel officer-in-charge Kenneth S. Tampal said: “For many years, it has been an established practice of the Senate to rent office space to be used as extension or satellite offices of a particular requesting senator.”

Santiago had asked Tampal to determine the propriety of choosing where to have her satellite’s office after she was criticized for leasing a floor at the Narsan Building in Quezon City.

The building is owned by Santiago’s family. Santiago cited other senators who leased office space and their rents: Serge Osmeña III (P148,200 per month); Edgardo Angara (P82,720); Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. (P170,000 per month); and Teofisto Guingona III (P82,500).

Santiago’s lease of P70,000 a month was only 40 percent of the P178,000 monthly rental cap allowed by the Senate Budget Service.

Santiago said her rental rate, which had been at the same level since 1994, was just a third of the prevailing lease rates in the area.

“It is a known fact that even the officially designated main Senate headquarters is composed of rented office spaces leased from the GSIS (Government Service Insurance System) by the Senate. These office spaces are not big enough to accommodate the respective staff,” Tampal said.

Tampal said that while lawmakers had to bring their offices closer to their constituencies, it could not render an opinion on a senator’s discretion to choose the site of the extension office.

“That matter should better be left to be threshed out by and between the individual senator involved and the Senate President. It is in our considered opinion that there is no legal prohibition for the exercise of such discretion,” Tampal said.

He noted “that lease payments for the extension office of a senator are legitimately funded via the Maintenance and Other Operating Expenses (MOOE) budget allocated to a senator’s office under the General Appropriations Act.”

Santiago said that this opinion should silence her “enemies” who had claimed that office rentals should undergo public bidding.

She said Republic Act No. 9184, or the Government Procurement Reform Act, stated that there was no need for public bidding in highly exceptional cases, such as the “negotiated procurement,” also known as the lease of real property.

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