'Ceasefire’ as Senate agrees to open books for audit
MANILA - After a week of bruising word wars among senators over the use of the Senate’s funds, they have agreed to a “ceasefire,” Sen. Panfilo Lacson said.
At the same time, they will also comply with a request from the Commission on Audit (COA) to have the chamber’s expenses audited, and begin to liquidate their maintenance and other operating expenses (MOOE) through receipts and not just certifications.
Senators reached these agreements in a closed-door meeting on Monday, January 28.
“Napag-usapan din na ceasefire na muna,” Lacson said after Monday’s caucus. “Pero ang problema, ang mga wala diyan, baka hindi sila abot ng agreement na may ceasefire.”
One of those absent in the meeting was Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago, who criticized Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile for his distribution of the Senate’s savings allegedly as cash gifts to senators, and against whom Lacson plans to file a case for misuse of Senate funds.
Lacson said the Senate has no choice but comply with COA’s request, which was made through a letter by its chairperson, Ma. Gracia M. Pulido Tan.
In the letter, Tan cited COA’s constitutional mandate to audit the expenses of all government agencies.
“We seek your assistance in making available to us, in the soonest possible time, all papers, documents and information in your possession or care as Chairman of the Committee on Accounts, particularly those bearing on the augmentation and realignment of Senate funds, as well as the use/s to which the MOOE given to members of the Senate have been devoted, so that we can forthwith carry out a ‘no-holds barred’ audit of the Senate finances,” she wrote.
Lacson, who chairs of the accounts committee, said the required documents have been prepared. The initial batch of documents that will be submitted to COA covers the years 2010 to 2012, while those dating back to 2007 will also be released at a later time.
“Today or tomorrow, the accounting office will be ready to submit the initial batch of documents,” he told reporters
“We have to comply, even the House. We’ll all have to comply.”
CONCURRENT RESO REPEALED
In deciding to change the way they liquidate their MOOE, Lacson said senators “effectively repealed” Concurrent Resolution 10, which allows lawmakers to account for their expenses only through a certification that says the money was used properly without the need to present receipts. But they would have to inform members of the House, he added.
“We can also formalize the rescission of the concurrent resolution by way of another resolution,” he said.
Lacson said the House initiated the resolution in 2011 because it had problems with its resident auditor. Although liquidation through certification is not allowed by law, he said it found “legal cover” through the resolution that both the House and the Senate adopted.
Senate Minority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano had earlier called for an audit of the Senate’s expenses by a private firm. He has publicly attacked Enrile because of the latter’s alleged unfair distribution of additional MOOE to senators from the Senate’s savings last year: all but 4 senators, including Cayetano, received P1.6 million in additional funds.
Lacson pointed out, however, that the budget law does not authorize the Senate to pay for a private auditor. He also said Tan’s letter makes it clear that only COA can audit government agencies.
“Mahirap talagang i-justify,” he said. “Walang makakapigil kung gustong ipa-audit sa private auditing firm. Pero hindi puwedeng gastusan ng pondo ng gobyerno.”
Cayetano will file this week a resolution calling for a parallel audit of the Senate’s expenses by COA and a private firm.
He had argued that COA is susceptible to pressure from lawmakers because their budget goes through Congress for approval and its officials need to be confirmed by Commission on Appointments, which is composed of senators and congressmen.