Enrile gives P1.85M, not P1.6M to 18 senators

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SENATOR Miriam Defensor-Santiago disclosed that Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile gave a total of P1,850,000 not P1.6 million as published, to 18 senators last December attaching a note on P250,000 as “JPE’s personal cash gift.”

“Last December, every senator except four, received P1.6 million from savings, plus P250,000 as personal cash gift from Enrile, making a total Christmas bonus of P1.850 million for every senator,” Santiago said in an issued statement.

Compared to the nearly P2 million for every senator, four senators –Santiago, Antonio Trillanes, Alan Cayetano, and Pia Cayetano – received only P250,000, with Santiago receiving no bonus at all because she returned her personal cash gift.

“He returned my biscuits, so I returned his cash,” Santiago said in a statement.

Santiago also told media that every month; each senator receives P2.2 million for staff salaries and office expenses.

“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.

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

“The so-called savings of each public office has turned into a national scandal, the grand mama 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,” Santiago said.

Santiago said the COA auditor usually accommodates the “enforced savings” ordered by the head of office, because COA auditors are often afraid of politicians, or the COA auditors themselves share in the “enforced savings.”

“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 (maintenance and other operating expenses), appropriations for consultants, foreign travel funds, etc.,” Santiago said.

The senator argued for many years starting in 1995 when she was first elected to the Senate that the public should know the total annual income of every legislator.

Before she was elected senator, she served as immigration commissioner and concurrently member of the board of directors of the Philippine Retirement Authority, where she waived her Christmas bonus in favor of the rank and file, on the ground that the director’s bonus had no legal basis.

After her first year as senator, Santiago returned to the Senate her unspent funds, but her action was derided by many of her fellow senators at that time, because it made them look bad.

In 1996, the Inquirer ran a front-page banner headline story that in addition to their annual pork barrel, the senators had distributed among themselves additional pork barrel. Only Santiago refused the additional pork barrel, on the ground that it had no legal basis.

As senator, when she first called for a public revelation of each senator’s total income, the then Senate President ordered the Senate budget director to keep the Senate finance documents confidential, even against a senator like Santiago.

After the Inquirer story on Wednesday on the use of alleged savings as Christmas bonuses for senators, Santiago once again returned to her battle cry to reveal the annual total income from government offices of all public officials, led by Congress members.

“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,” Santiago said.

Santiago 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.

Santiago said that every month, each senator receives some P 2.2 million for staff salaries and office expenses.

“The senator can play around with this P 2.2 million. If he does not hire staff, or does not spend for office rental and supplies, he gets to keep the P 2.2 million or any residual amount for himself,” she said.

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