MANILA, Philippines – Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago believes Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile is a Scrooge when he refused to distribute equally millions of pesos in Senate savings to 4 of his own colleagues.
Speaking to ABS-CBN, Santiago said she will write to Commission on Audit chairperson Gracia Pulido-Tan to probe the so-called savings of top government offices including the Senate.
This, after Enrile admitted giving P2.2 million each to 18 senators last Christmas while distributing only P250,000 each to Senators Santiago, Antonio Trillanes IV, Pia Cayetano and Alan Peter Cayetano.
Santiago said savings of top government offices are a racket to allow heads to distribute the largesse at the end of the year.
“Sa pagkakaalam ko, hindi nila ginagastos ang buong budget nila na nakikita sa budget ng gobyerno. Ayaw nila gastusin para i-claim nila na savings yan sa katapusan ng taon at ipapamahagi sa sarili nila. Yun ang raket dun,” she said.
She noted that if the Senate could give out such large cash bonuses at the end of the year, then its budget should be lowered. Part of the savings is from the budget for the 24th Senate post, which was vacated after Benigno Aquino III won in the 2010 presidential election.
Santiago also questioned Enrile’s claim that he has sole discretion to distribute the funds to the senators. She said the discretionary power is prone to abuse since Enrile could simply distribute the funds to political allies.
“Ang sinasabi niya ngayon solong kapangyarihan niya na mamili siya kung kanino niya ibibigay ang savings na yun. Aba, hindi naman ayon sa Saligang Batas yun. Ano ang base ng sinasabi niyang kapangyarihan niyang discretionary daw yan? Yan ay una sa lahat labag sa tinatawag na equal protection clause sa Constitution,” she said.
“Nakalagay sa Saligang Batas kung ano man ang ginagawa ng gobyerno o isang opisyal ng gobyerno, kailangan pantay-pantay. Hindi pwedeng mamili dahil kung ganun pala yun e di lahat na lang ng kalaban ng Senate President o halimbawa kalaban sa aprtido ay hindi bigyan at mas malaki ngayon ang pera niya at ipamamahagi niya sa mga kapartido niya. Hindi ganun ang nakalagay sa ating Saligang Batas.
She also noted such discretion could be questioned before the Supreme Court for violation of the equal protection clause in the Constitution.
A gift returned
Santiago said she would still write the COA to investigate the savings even if she had also received P2.2 million from Enrile. "Kung lahat kami ay tumanggap, it falls under my criteria na it should be subject to liquidation meaning to say we are required to submit an itemized report on how we spent that money,” she said.
She said that in her first year as senator, she returned to the Senate her unspent funds. She said her action was derided by many of her fellow senators at that time “because it made them look bad.”
Since then, she said she always instructed her finance director to make sure that all received funds are distributed equally and subject to liquidation.
“Ang utos ko sa aking finance director ay - tignan mo lang. Kapag may perang pinadala sa Senado, itanong mo lang ito ba ay para sa lahat ng senador? At pangalawa, ito ba ay subject to liquidation? Kung ganun, tanggapin natin,” she said.
Santiago admitted that she returned the P250,000 to Enrile after finding out that it came from his own pocket and was not subject to liquidation. She also noted that Enrile had returned her own gift of biscuits, which she had bought from Iloilo.
Asked what happened to the biscuits, she said: “Matagal na naubos yung biscuit.”