MANILA, Philippines -- There is nothing irregular with Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile's distribution of the savings of the Senate to his fellow senators, the chairperson of the Commission on Audit (COA) said Thursday.
This, after Senator Miriam Santiago said she wants the COA to probe the savings of top government offices, including the Senate's.
She made the proposal after Enrile admitted giving P2.2 million in maintenance and other operating expenses (MOOE) funds each to 18 senators last Christmas, but distributed only P250,000 each to Senators Santiago, Antonio Trillanes IV, Pia Cayetano and Alan Peter Cayetano.
COA Chairperson Grace Pulido-Tan said it is stated in the General Appropriations Act (GAA) that the Senate has the authority to augment any item in the GAA from any savings in their respective appropriations.
She added that the Senate President, as well as the speaker of the House, "have the authority to implement the organizational structure of their respective offices, and to determine the salaries, allowances and other benefits of their respective members."
"Meron pong kapangyarihan ang Senate President na itinalaga sa batas. As you know, the GAA is a law and was enacted by the Congress."
"By our understanding of the special provisions of the GAA eh mukha namang maliwanag na meron siya talagang kapangyarihan na mag-augment at mag-determine ng allowances and other benefits of the respective members," the COA chief said.
Pulido-Tan also said the agency regularly audits the budget for the MOOE. However, COA does not audit salaries, allowances and bonuses, she said.
"Yung sa MOOE eh tinitingnan talaga namin sa audit 'yun kung napunta nga 'yun sa dapat puntahan. Kung salaries, wages, allowances and bonuses naman eh hindi na namin binubusisi 'yun kung saan nila nilagay."
"Kasi ang bonus sayo eh, personal eh," she said.
Santiago earlier questioned Enrile's claim that he has sole discretion on the distribution of funds, saying that the power is prone to abuse since Enrile could simply distribute funds to political allies.
Addressing the issue, Pulido-Tan said, "'Yun ang aming 'di masasagot because the discretion is vested on the Senate President. Wala sa amin 'yun."
Pulito-Tan added that the COA also has no authority on lowering the budget of the Senate.
"Wala rin po sa competence namin 'yun. It is the DBM (Department of Budget and Management) who has the competence and authority to determine what should be the appropriate budget for the Senate and the House of Representatives."