JPE Xmas gifts put Senate savings under spotlight

By David Dizon,

Posted at Jan 14 2013 05:17 PM | Updated as of Jan 15 2013 01:17 AM

MANILA, Philippines – Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile’s disbursement of the Senate’s “savings” to 18 senators is authorized by law but the issue doesn't stop there, according to the Commission on Audit (COA).

COA Chairperson Grace Pulido-Tan said the Senate’s resident auditor still has to investigate the disbursements if these were liquidated properly. She said the revelation has also brought to the limelight the practice of some government offices not to use up their budgets so they could use the savings as bonuses at the end of the year.

“Did it go to [maintenance and other operating expenses]? Lalabas ang audit report namin middle of the year,” she said, referring to the Senate’s savings in an ANC interview on Monday.

She added: “I want to assure the public that while we are very positive that the law allows this kind of thing to happen, hindi ibig sabihin tapos na ang isyug yan. As far as we are concerned, tuloy-tuloy ang audit namin. What do we look at? Is it true that these are savings? We check this every year. That is the role of the resident auditor.”

The chief government auditor said the General Appropriations Act (GAA) includes a special provision that allows heads of agencies or government offices to realign savings into additional MOOE [Maintenance and Other Operating Expenses] bonuses.

She said that some government agencies have very minimal savings at the end of the year, which are either remitted to the National Treasury or distributed to employees as bonuses.

In the case of the Senate, she said the issue caught public attention because of the large amounts involved.

Certifications serve as liquidation

Tan said senators usually just give certifications that they have spent cash advances on certain items.

“When they liquidate for example, they usually just give us certification on their honor saying ‘Yes, we spent this money on this kind of thing.’ Walang resibo e. Hindi required. Certification on their honor. They liquidate advances in that manner. Ok naman, dinatnan ko na yung practice na yan. Sa akin naman, who am I to question the integrity and honor of our senators? Now that I am hearing all these things, siguro it will help if they give us concrete examples,” she said.

She said personal cash advances are different from the MOOE given to the offices of the senators. She said if the checks distributed by Enrile were given to the senators’ offices, then it is the offices that must account for the funds before COA. 

She also said it is up to the Senate President and the Speaker of the House to define what constitutes savings in the two houses of Congress.

“The term savings and the authority given to the Senate President and Speaker of the House to augment appropriation from any savings came from the Congress. Sila po sana ang magsabi sa akin kung ano ang ibig sabihin ng savings. Bakit kami? We cannot second guess them. Sabi nila pwede pag galing sa savings. Ano po yung ibig sabihin ng savings? Please specify,” she said.

DBM to cut Senate funds?

The COA chief also said it is up to the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) to recommend if the Senate needs to cut their allocations especially with its huge savings every year.

She said the COA usually only recommends looking at the books of a government agency if it keeps losing money every year.

“It is really the DBM that has the oversight on these things. Under the law, the use of these savings should be reported to the DBM. Nakikita ng DBM yan,” she said.

COA to publish ‘potential income’ of senators

She said she is also reviewing Santiago’s recommendation to publish the annual potential income of senators and other lawmakers including honoraria for committee work.

Tan said the COA usually comes out with a report indicating the basic salaries of lawmakers, allowances, committee per diems, travel funds, etc.

“What does not come out in the newspapers would be the per diems and honoraria per committee. We usually indicate [in their annual incomes] that this does not include that kasi ganun yung naging patakaran nuon, which is why we are reviewing. Siguro sa susunod, kukumpletuhin na namin yung columns, for publication sa newspaper. Nonetheless, maski wala sa dyaryo accessible yan as a matter of public record in the office of our auditor,” she said.

In her letter to the COA, Santiago urged the audit body to look into the alleged widespread abuse of government’s savings as well as upload on the Internet the total income of all top public officials.

Tan said she wants Senator Santiago to help the agency in “getting to the bottom of things” in the Senate. This, after Santiago said some government officials just pocket their funds instead of spending it on hiring staff or buying equipment.

“Senator Santiago is saying something to that effect. If the honorable senator can help us out and come up with a benchmark - how much is it talaga on a typical scenario, makita namin ano usually ang gastusin. Ibe-benchmark natin kay Senator Santiago kasi si Senator Santiago is really the one who is so passionate about getting to the bottom of things,” she said.

Santiago earlier said senators and congressional representatives get kickbacks consisting of some 10 percent of their pork barrel funds. For a senator with an annual pork barrel of P200 million, she said this amounts to an annual kickback of usually P20 million, or a total kickback in six years of P120 million.