Miriam to COA: Enrile abused discretion
MANILA, Philippines – Vote or no vote of confidence, Sen Miriam Defensor Santiago is not yet done with her battle with Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile.
Despite being on sick leave, Santiago sent a new letter to Commission on Audit Chairperson Ma Gracia Pulido-Tan to insist that Enrile committed grave abuse of discretion in excluding 4 critics from the receipt of additional Senate savings.
In a letter on Tuesday, January 22, Santiago said Enrile’s move can be questioned before the Supreme Court.
“The exclusion, for no stated reason, of 4 senators from the alleged augmented [Maintenance and Other Operating Expenses] is a shocking abuse of discretion amounting to lack of jurisdiction, under the Equal Protection Clause,” Santiago wrote Tan.
The senator was referring to Enrile’s decision not to give her, and Senators Antonio Trillanes IV, Alan Peter Cayetano, and Pia Cayetano P1.6 million each in additional Maintenance and Other Operating Expenses [MOOE] sourced from Senate savings last December.
The 4 Enrile critics only got the first tranche of MOOE worth P600,000 each, and a Christmas cash gift from Enrile’s office of P250,000 each.
Santiago’s letter came a day after Enrile made a motion to declare vacant the Senate Presidency, a move that 11 senators rejected and only two others supported.
Enrile said though he will reiterate his motion when all senators are present. The move preempted a long-reported plot to unseat Enrile but Trillanes said the plan still continues.
The female senator wrote Tan after the COA chairperson said in media statements that Enrile has the discretion over the use of Senate savings.
Santiago said, “As a student of constitutional law, I fear that you may have been expressing a casual opinion. Hence, I take the liberty of citing certain constitutional provisions which might be of help in your written compliance on my earlier request for opinion.”
The senator said she is seeking a written response from Tan before she conducts a Senate probe on the issue or raise the matter before the Supreme Court.
‘No blanket authority’
Santiago argued in her letter that the General Appropriations Act of 2012 cannot be used to justify Enrile’s use of the Senate savings. Tan had cited the same law to say Enrile has discretion.
“It is not a blanket authority for realignment. It is necessary that the budgetary item that will be augmented exists. Savings cannot be used to fund a non-existent program, activity, or project,” Santiago said.
Santiago added that without any request for augmentation, no senator should be given additional funds.
Yet in his speech on Monday, January 21, Enrile said Sen Pia Cayetano’s office kept following up with his office on the release of her additional MOOE last December.
Santiago though insisted that Enrile’s decision was questionable.
“Savings from an item may be used to augment spending that was not envisioned at the time that the budget was approved. The distribution of bonuses does not fall under this concept of augmentation,” she said.
She added, “The issue is not the existence of the power, but the legitimacy of the exercise of that power.”
The COA and several senators have said that the MOOE is only for official use, and is subject to liquidation and audit.
Santiago though has called for a deeper probe of the issue to include the total income of high public officials, and a more specific definition of the word “savings” and “public purposes” to avoid abuse.
‘Stop drama, just investigate’
Senate Minority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano has said that the Senate should just hire a private accounting firm to settle the issue once and for all.
In an interview on radio DZMM on Monday, he said Enrile’s move caught him by surprise.
“Bakit ngayon namemersonal na si Senate President? May drama-drama pa na pa-resign-resign pa. Pero magbobotohan din pala nung mga kakampi niya. Ang hinihingi lang naman ng tao ay simple lang: magkaroon ng imbestigasyon at i-audit ng mabuti.’” (Why is the Senate President taking it personally? He even has a dramatic move of resigning but it ends up with a voting of his allies. What people want is simple: to have a thorough investigation and audit.)
Cayetano was absent during the vote.
Cayetano said he has yet to see the ethics case filed by the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC) against Enrile and all the other senators over the issue.
“So instead of confronting the Senate President, my suggestion is just legislation. Let’s not make noise and just audit and investigate,” he said.
Trillanes though said he plans to respond to Enrile through his own privilege speech. – Rappler.com