Miriam wants COA to audit savings of Senate, other govt offices

After Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile granted additional budget to some senators, Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago has called on the Commission on Audit (COA) to audit the savings available to the heads of the Senate and other government offices.

In a statement released Wednesday, Santiago called on COA chair Ma. Gracia Pulido-Tan to instruct COA auditors of the Senate and House of Representatives to examine and audit the so-called “savings” or “secret funds” available to the Senate President, House Speaker, and other heads of offices, to ensure transparency.

“The so-called savings of each public office has turned into a national scandal, the grandmama of all scandals. The Constitution allows savings to be used by the office at the end of the year. But in reality, the head of office manipulates the books and creates so-called savings, by refusing to fill up vacancies, or refusing to buy essential office supplies or services, or capital equipment. These so-called ‘enforced savings’ are then distributed among the highest officials, in the guise of Christmas bonuses,” she said.

She issued the statement after Enrile admitted to giving P1.6 million in additional Maintenance and Other Operating Expenses (MOOE) funds to 18 senators, excluding himself and his known critics Santiago, Senate Minority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano, Senators Pia Cayetano, and Antonio Trillanes IV. The funds were reportedly sourced from the savings of the Senate. Santiago said the COA auditor usually "accommodates the enforced savings” ordered by the head of office either because they are afraid of politicians or they themselves benefit from it.

“I challenge the COA to reveal to the public the total income annually of every senator and every 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, appropriations for consultants, foreign travel funds, etc.,” she said.

“The COA should upload on the Internet, not only the basic salary, but also the total annual income of every high public official. 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,” she added.

Santiago said each senator receives P2.2 million for staff salaries and office expenses monthly.

“The monthly office appropriation of P2.2 million is discretionary. How it is spent depends on the discretion of the senator. The senator can pocket the money if he wants to,” she said.

She likewise said that "in many cases, senators and representatives get kickbacks consisting of some 10 percent of their pork barrel funds."

“For a senator with an annual pork barrel of P200 million, the annual kickback is usually P20 million, or a total kickback in six years of P120 million. For a representative with annual pork barrel of P70 million, the usual annual kickback is P7 million, or a total kickback every three years of P21 million,” she said. — RSJ, GMA News

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