MANILA - Amid the pork barrel controversy, the Commission on Audit (COA) has warned the Senate on the use of its oversight fund.
Sources revealed that the COA recently sent a memorandum to all senators to ensure proper use of their P480-million allocation for oversight committees to avoid possible fund misuse.
Apart from this, the sources said the COA is looking into possible anomalies stemming from the realignment of operational funds of the Senate under the 2014 budget.
The COA reiterated the need for senators to submit audit instruments periodically, including the list of staff members and consultants assigned to the respective oversight committees.
“This early there are already advances from some of these oversight committees when most have not conducted any hearings,” a source said.
The COA also told senators to comply with time details of expenses on personnel services, maintenance and other operating expenses, capital outlays under the P 3.344-billion Senate budget for this year.
The expenses on the congressional oversight committees were not among the items or annual expenses published by the COA.
Rationalization and realignments
When Sen. Franklin Drilon took the helm of the Senate leadership last year, each oversight committee started getting a uniform budget of P20 million a year unlike in previous years when each oversight committee got over P30 million.
In a memo in August last year, Drilon sought the termination of all personnel of existing oversight committees following a major revamp at the Senate. It was also around that time when senators agreed on a uniform budget for each oversight committee.
There are 31 congressional oversight/ad hoc committees under the current 16th Congress. The oversight committees are different from the 39 permanent committees of the Senate.
The unequal distribution of oversight committees was reportedly one of the reasons why some senators assailed Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile in early 2013, which was among the reasons that eventually led to his ouster as Senate president.
The COA came out with the warning as financial executives at the Senate noted a special provision in the 2014 budget that allows the realignment of allocation for operational expenses, subject to approval of the Senate president.
Under this special provision, each senator may realign his allocation for operational expenses to any other expense category, provided that the total allocation is not exceeded.
Under the 2014 budget, the Senate through the Senate president is also authorized to use savings from its appropriations to cover actual deficiencies incurred for the current year.
Of the 24 senators, 17 got oversight committee chairmanships.
As officers, Senate President Franklin Drilon, Senate president pro-tempore Ralph Recto, Senate majority leader Alan Cayetano, and minority leader Juan Ponce Enrile do not traditionally get committees.
Sen. Vicente Sotto had manifested last year that he does not want to head any committee as part of the minority bloc.
Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV heads the most number of congressional oversight committees, totaling to three. They are the oversight committees on the Philippine Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act of 2010; the committee on Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Modernization Act, and the select oversight committee on intelligence and confidential funds.
Sen. Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr. heads the congressional oversight committee on civil aviation authority of the Philippines; Sen. Paolo Benigno Aquino IV the congressional oversight committee on quality affordable medicines; Sen. Gregorio the congressional oversight committee on agrarian reform; Sen. Joseph Victor Ejercito the special oversight committee on economic affairs, and Sen. Cynthia Villar the chairperson of the oversight committee on agriculture and fisheries modernization.
Senators who chair two oversight committees include Sen. Loren Legarda who heads the joint congressional oversight committee on the clean water act; as well as oversight committee on the chainsaw act, and on ecological solid waste management act.
Sen. Sergio Osmeña III is chairman of the joint congressional power commission, and of the oversight committee on biofuels.
Sen. Sonny Angara is chair of oversight committee on the proper implementation of the national internal revenue code. Angara also heads the congressional oversight committee on the official development assistance (ODA) law.
Sen. Grace Poe chairs the oversight committee on dangerous drugs, and the joint congressional oversight committee on the human security act of 2007.
Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago is chairperson of the joint congressional oversight committee on the overseas voting act of 2003, and the legislative oversight committee on the visiting forces agreement.
Sen. Jinggoy Estrada is chairman of the oversight committees on overseas workers’ affairs, and on labor and employment. Sen. Lito Lapid holds chairmanship of two congressional oversight committees: on tourism, and on cooperatives.
Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr. leads the oversight committee on the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) act, and on the Special Purpose Vehicle Act.
Sen. Teofisto Guingona III heads the oversight committee on anti-money laundering law.
Sen. Pia Cayetano is chairperson of the oversight committee on climate change and on bases conversion.
Sen. Francis Escudero heads the joint congressional oversight committee on public enterprises while Sen. Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III is chairperson of the congressional oversight committee on the local government code of 1991.
There is no one appointed yet to head the select oversight committee on barangay affairs.
Escudero, on the other hand, clarified that the Senate can conduct hearings, not just in aid of legislation, but on the anomalies in government under the jurisdiction of the Blue Ribbon committee.
At the same time, Escudero called on the Senate leadership and his colleagues to organize the Senate Ethics committee to start possible disciplinary proceedings against three of their colleagues in relation to the alleged pork barrel fund misuse.
Reacting to the heated verbal exchange between Senators Estrada and Guingona, Escudero found it inappropriate that the verbal spat was settled away from the public eye.
Estrada and Guingona engaged in a word war over the latter’s apparent prejudgment in its last hearing on the pork barrel scam.
Drilon immediately suspended the session Wednesday when Estrada and Guingona engaged in a harsh exchange of words during the open plenary.
Estrada confronted Guingona during a closed-door caucus and when they returned to the session, all seemed settled between them.
Sotto earlier manifested the need to convene the Senate ethics committee. Estrada also thinks that the ethics committee is the proper forum to tackle accusations of pork barrel fund misuse.
Escudero said the Senate should start organizing the committee so that it can determine whether it should discipline some senators who are implicated in the pork barrel fund misuse.