MANILA - Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) General Manager Alexander Balutan on Tuesday insisted that there was nothing wrong with spending P6 million for the agency's Christmas party last year.
Balutan and other PCSO officials are being investigated for possible irregularities and liabilities for spending such amount for a "lavish" party in a 5-star hotel, where dinner cost about "P3,000 per person" and prizes amounted to about P5 million.
"I think considering the current situation, 'yung presyo ngayon ay mataas na rin, I think it's appropriate," Balutan told lawmakers during a congressional hearing at the House of Representatives.
Balutan said the PCSO even saved money as it managed to reduce the party's price tag to P6 million from the P14 million budget approved by the Department of Budget and Management.
"I believe that was the very minimum na puwede natin gamitin sa ating mga empleyado na mahihirap din... They deserve that because billions of pesos 'yung naiakyat. It's a morale booster for our employees," he said.
Balutan earlier told senators that the money used for the Christmas party did not come from taxpayer's money, but was sourced from the "gaming public."
But House Committee on Good Government Chair Johnny Pimentel said the agency's "traditions" should not be used to justify "the question of legality and propriety."
"Hindi naman ibig sabihin na since 1960 nagpa-party na kayo ibig sabihin sa 2017 kailangan niyo pa din mag-party at gumastos ng P10 million. Hindi po ba puwedeng austerity na lang? O di kaya ay binigay niyo na lang sa empleyado. Eh di sana may tig-P10,000 pa sila," Pimentel said, referring to PCSO's 1,500 employees.
House Minority Leader Danilo Suarez, however, told other lawmakers not to single out the PCSO when it comes to party expenditures.
"Other agencies are holding Christmas parties. Why are we singling out PCSO?" he said.
PCSO board member Sandra Cam, who first bared the charity agency's multimillion-peso Christmas party, said the PCSO should have helped victims of typhoons that hit in December instead of throwing an extravagant gathering.
"(Let's) moderate our greed here... I spoke to senators last week and they told me that they have 1,500 employees too and they spent their Christmas party in the PICC (Philippine International Convention Center). They said, 'All our employees were satisfied and we spent only less than 2 million,'" Cam said.
Pimentel earlier said PCSO officials who approved the party expenses also violated laws as the money was disbursed using a cash advance.
Under a Commission on Audit memorandum circular, cash advances may only be issued to pay for "salaries and wages, commutable allowances, honorarium for officials and employees, and petty operating expenses" up to P10,000, Pimentel said.