Senate panel defers approval of OSG budget over Calida allowances, other funds
MANILA, Philippines — A Senate panel on Monday postponed its approval of the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) budget after questions were raised on the allowances given to Solicitor General Jose Calida and its proposed travel and confidential funds for next year.
During the Senate hearing on the Department of Justice (DOJ) proposed budget, Senator Francis Tolentino moved to defer OSG’s proposed P1.116 billion budget for 2021.
“I move for the deferral of the OSG budget hearing today until such time that they can submit the requested documents that would buttress their claim that these are being utilized for the appropriate purpose,” Tolentino said.
Before this, Tolentino asked the OSG regarding Calida’s allowances as he noted that the latter is the second-highest-paid government official.
Assistant Solicitor General Henry Angeles said Calida receives allowances from client agencies that the OSG represents.
Angeles represented Calida, who did not attend the hearing after he was advised by his doctor to take a five-day rest.
“There is a COA [Commission on Audit] circular, which states that allowances should not exceed 50 percent of the annual salary, and apparently there is a disconnect here. COA has been asking you not to raise that more than 50 percent and apparently, the solicitor general has defied the COA memorandum,” Tolentino pointed out.
Angeles explained that the COA circular being cited by Tolentino was issued years before Calida took office and that OSG has been appealing the said memorandum to COA.
“We have filed our appeals dun sa disallowances nila and as of the moment, it is still pending,” Angeles said.
Tolentino also questioned OSG’s request to fund travel expenses for next year, amounting to P21.499 million.
The senator noted that 87.75 percent of the travel funds would be for foreign trips despite the ongoing pandemic.
“Kasagsagan pa ho next year ng COVID-19. Saan naman po tayo magpo-foreign travel?…Ngayon malaki pa yung hinihingi niyo,” he said.
(We will still feel the effects of COVID-19 next year. Where will you travel abroad? You are even requesting a big budget.)
“Hindi ko alam kung saan kayo magta-travel. Hindi naman siguro sa Boracay,” he added.
(I don’t know where you will go. For sure, it would not be in Boracay.)
Angeles said OSG has already requested Congress to realign the travel funds for other purposes.
Tolentino further quizzed Angeles regarding OSG’s request for confidential funds.
“Apparently your confidential funds…it’s now hovering the baseline of P20 million for next fiscal year,” he said.
“I don’t see any program on how national security and peace and order would fit in the OSG budget so dito tayo nagkakaroon ng disconnect,” he added, even emphasizing that OSG’s mandate is mainly to represent government agencies in cases.
Like the travel funds, Angeles said the OSG has already requested the realignment of the confidential funds under capital outlay to be used for the “maintenance of our building.”
Tolentino then prodded OSG to submit to the Senate documents on how the agency utilized its confidential funds in previous years.
“We need to be apprised by the concerned agency and due to the absence of the head of the agency in this committee budget hearing, we need to be apprised how this confidential funds allocation was utilized during previous years and for this coming fiscal year,” he said.
No senator objected to Tolentino’s motion to defer the budget of the OSG.
“We will defer the OSG budget until they have submitted the data or the reasons asked for by Senator Tolentino,” said panel chair, Senator Sonny Angara.
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