MANILA, Philippines – Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile confirmed Wednesday he gave out nearly P30 million in cash gifts to fellow senators last Christmas but denied that these were bribes to stave off a Senate coup.
In a statement, Enrile confirmed a Philippine Daily Inquirer story that his office gave an additional P1.6 million in maintenance and other operating expenses (MOOE) budget to 18 senators.
He also confirmed that 4 other senators – Antonio Trillanes IV, Miriam Defensor Santiago and Alan and Pia Cayetano – received only P250,000 each.
“Any additional MOOE approved by the Senate President for each Senator is not a matter of entitlement. Neither should such be mistaken as taken from the Senate President’s discretionary funds,” he said.
He added: “I stand by the exercise of my sole discretion not to authorize any further releases of additional MOOE last December to the 4 Senators. It is time to call a spade a spade.”
Enrile said the Senate budget office informed him that the chamber had savings of up to P2.218 million in MOOE for each senator. He said all 23 senators had received P600,000 in additional MOOE last November.
The balance was then divided into 2 tranches of P1.3 million and P318,000 and released to the 18 senators before the Christmas break. Enrile said that aside from the 4 senators, he also did not get P1.6 million in additional MOOE.
The Senate President denied that the cash gifts were intended as bribes to stave off a Senate coup.
“Those Senators who think that I am bribing anyone with additional budgets in order to keep my post as Senate President must have a very low opinion about their own colleagues. I was elected as Senate President twice and I can look at anyone straight in the eye in saying that I did not buy this position. Not one single centavo of the people’s money is spent just to enable me to cling to this office,” he said.
He said senators who are complaining about the amount of their MOOE did not say anything when they also received millions of pesos in additional budget in preceding years. He said he authorized the release of approximately P5.75 million to each senator from 2008 to 2011.
Why 4 senators only got P250,000
In the statement, Enrile said the P250,000 cheques that the 4 senators got came from his own office’s savings. He said all senators got P250,000 each after some senators asked for “pamasko.”
He also revealed that Santiago returned the P250,000 to his office.
“Last Monday, I was told that Sen. Santiago sent me back a check for the same amount of P250,000 with a letter from her Chief of Staff explaining that the check I gave was inadvertently deposited. So Sen. Santiago gave back my gift, as I gave back hers. Fair enough,” he said.
Enrile said Santiago’s membership in the Senate majority is questionable “as she has publicly and repeatedly denounced and attacked me, just like Sen. Trillanes.”
“She does not consider me a friend and I do not think she considers me as the head of the Senate and that is fine with me,” he said.
Santiago earlier confirmed that her relationship with the Senate President was “ice-cold” due to disagreements on various issues including the passage of the reproductive health bill.
In the statement, Enrile said Santiago remains chairman of the Senate committee on constitutional amendments plus 2 oversight committees with annual budgets of P15 million and P10 million.
Praise for Joker
On the other hand, the Senate President said Trillanes also retained the chairmanship of the Civil Service Committee and of the Oversight Committee on Government Procurement, with a budget of P10 million annually which was just recently increased to P15 million, despite his move to the minority.
Last year, Trillanes had a falling-out with Enrile after he accused the Senate President of pushing the bill that sought to divide Camarines Sur. Enrile, however, accused Trillanes of engaging in backchannel negotiations with the Chinese at the height of the standoff over Scarborough Shoal.
Enrile confirmed he decided not to give additional MOOE to the Cayetano siblings since they are members of the Senate minority.
He said Alan Peter Cayetano, as Senate minority leader, has a budget as a member of the Commission on Appointments, the chairmanship of the E-Commerce Oversight Committee with an annual budget of P6 million, and a new oversight committee chairmanship (BCDA) with an annual budget of P10 million.
Pia Cayetano chairs the Committee on Health and the Committee on Youth, Women and Family Relations plus the Clean Water Act oversight committee with an annual budget of P10 million, he said.
Enrile said Senator Joker Arroyo “is the only member of the Minority who really and actually acts as a member of the Minority, doing his job at fiscalizing even more than the Minority Floor Leader.”
“He declined to chair any committee, regular or oversight, so unlike the Cayetano siblings,” he said.