Wednesday, 9 January 2013

LATEST: Enrile defends ‘cash gifts’ to senators

Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago confirmed that she returned the P250,000 Christmas bonus given by Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile -- Contributed photo

MANILA: Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile defended himself on Wednesday against accusations of bribing colleagues to keep his post following a newspaper report that he gave P1.6 million as “cash gifts” for Christmas.
“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,” Enrile said in statement.
Enrile replaced Senator Manny Villar in November 2008. He was unanimously voted again as head of the Senate during the opening of 15th Congress in late July 2010.
The veteran senator said he has exercised the discretion of providing additional maintenance and other operating expenses (MOOE) “with prudence and equity.”
MANILA. Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago confirmed that she returned the P250,000 Christmas bonus given by Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile (Contributed photo)
Enrile explained that every year, the Senate Secretariat and the Senate’s budget office determines how much savings can be allocated for the distribution of additional MOOE to the senators’ offices.
At the end of 2012, the Senate budget office reported that the available amount for MOOE was a total of P2.218 million for each senator.
The first tranche, Enrile said, was released in November with the amount of P600,000. All 23 senators received the said amount.
“All the senators, including those now complaining or calling it ‘unconscionable’ and ‘unconstitutional’ received these amounts. Yet they never said anything nor questioned it before,” Enrile said.
The balance of P1.6 million was then divided into two tranches of P1.3 million and P318,000, respectively, and were approved to be released before the holiday break.
Four senators, namely, Alan Peter Cayetano and his sister, Pia, Antonio Trillanes IV and Miriam Defensor-Santiago, however, did not receive the remaining balance.
“While it is said to be purely discretionary on the part of the Senate President what additional budget to grant out of savings, or to give any at all for that matter, I have exercised such discretion with prudence and equity, and I have given the maximum that we could grant to all the senators concerned. I stand by the exercise of my sole discretion not to authorize any further releases of additional MOOE last December to the four senators. It is time to call a spade a spade,” Enrile said.
While the Cayetano siblings and Trillanes are members of the minority bloc, Enrile said Santiago’s membership in the majority is “questionable, to say the least” after he has been repeatedly “attacked” by the lawmaker.
Santiago earlier said that Enrile returned her biscuits being one of the authors of the controversial reproductive health bill that the Senate leader strongly objected to.
Trillanes, meanwhile, had a squabble with Enrile last September over a bill that sought to divide the province of Camarines Sur.
Enrile then accused Trillanes of being a traitor for allegedly defending Chinese interest in some islands in the West Philippine Sea in a meeting with then Ambassador to Beijing Sonia Brady. Trillanes was named back-channel negotiator by President Benigno Aquino III.
Enrile also said the four senators who did not receive the second tranche of the additional MOOE hold chairmanship of Senate committees with annual budgets ranging from P6 million to P15 million.
“The only thing I find humorous about this whole controversy is that I am being accused of ‘giving’, albeit generously to most, but not as generously to a few...four to be exact,” he said.
Enrile added he gave out P250,000 checks from the savings of his office to all 23 senators as “pamasko.”
Santiago sent back the check as confirmed by her office’s January 4 letter to Enrile’s deputy chief of staff Cherbett Karen Maralit.
“So Sen. Santiago gave back my gift, as I gave back hers. Fair enough,” he said.
Meanwhile, Santiago called on Commission on Audit (COA) Chairperson Grace Tan to instruct auditors to examine the so-called “savings” or “secret funds” available to the Senate President, Speaker and other heads of government offices to ensure transparency.
“The so-called savings of each public office has turned into a national scandal, the grandmamma of all scandals,” she said.
Santiago said these “savings” are distributed among high officials but at the expense of filling up vacancies and buying needed office supplies or services or capital equipment.
This practice continues to this day, she said, because COA auditors are either afraid of politicians or maybe they have become recipients of these “savings.”
She also challenged COA to upload on its website the total annual income of each senator and representative.
This total income should include basic salary, Christmas and other bonuses, monthly honoraria for committee work, monthly appropriation to be spent at the senator’s discretion for staff salaries and for MOOE, consultancy fees, and foreign travel funds, among others.
“If the COA cannot give the exact figure, then it should issue an accompanying statement on optional sources of income, such as committee chairmanships or memberships. Outside of Congress, COA should reveal how much intelligence or confidential funds are allotted to workers in law enforcement,” Santiago said, adding some lawmakers also benefited from kickbacks consisting of some 10 percent of their pork barrel funds.
After her first year as senator in 1996, Santiago said she returned to the Senate her unspent funds but this action was allegedly met with jeers by other senators “because it made them look bad.”(Kathrina Alvarez/Virgil Lopez/Sunnex)

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