MANILA, Philippines - It was a merry Christmas indeed for both chambers of Congress.
After Senate President Juan Ponce-Enrile on Wednesday admitted giving "cash gifts" to 18 senators over the Christmas holidays, House members also confirmed receiving additional funds in December.
An Waray Rep Florencio "Bem" Noel, chairman of the House committee on accounts, said Wednesday that solons received P500,000 for their maintenance and other operating expenses (MOOE) on the last month of 2012.
The amount was an increase from the usual P287,000 given monthly for their MOOE, Noel said. It is, however, less than what most of their peers in the Senate received.
Responding to a report published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Enrile issued a statement admitting the distribution of P1.6 million in "cash gifts" to most of his colleagues.
Enrile said all 23 Senators received the amount of P600,000 for the first tranche of distributions. Enrile, however, refused to give the additional P1.3 million to Senators Miriam Defensor Santiago, Alan Peter Cayetano, Pia Cayetano and Antonio Trillanes IV, who are either his known critics or members of the Senate minority.
Opposition also received extra funds
In contrast, members of the opposition bloc in the House also confirmed receiving "cash gifts" in December.
Minority Leader Danilo Suarez said the additional funds were given in the form of cheques under the name of the solons but he could not recall the exact amount that he received for last year.
Noel said that the money was meant to be spent for the congressional staff's 13th month pay, bonuses, and transportation expenses.
For Suarez, it is used for "a good number of employees" in their staff that are not entitled to Christmas bonuses.
Suarez, a longtime member of Congress, said the practice of distributing extra funds by the end of the year is already a common practice in the House.
"Whatever it is, it's being practiced every Christmas. This is already my, what, 6th Congress. Every Christmas the House leadership gives a little something for you to spread out among your staff," Suarez said in a mix of English and Filipino.
Noel, who is on his second term, said former Speaker Prospero Nograles also handed out additional funds in the 14th Congress but in smaller amounts.
Speaker Feliciano "Sonny" Belmonte Jr did not respond to questions about the matter. - Rappler.com