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Enrile’s ‘cash gifts’ exclude 4 critics

Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile admits he refused to give additional funds to Senators Miriam Defensor-Santiago, Alan Peter Cayetano, Pia Cayetano and Antonio Trillanes IV

'CALLING A SPADE A SPADE.' Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile admits he refused to give 4 of his critics in the Senate 'further additional funds.' He said, "I stand by the exercise of my sole discretion." File photo by Joseph Vidal/Senate PRIB

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATE) – “It is time to call a spade a spade.”

Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile confirmed that he refused to give 4 senators additional funds under the Senate’s Maintenance and Other Operating Expenses or MOOE before the Christmas break. 

Enrile issued a statement on Wednesday, January 9, admitting that he refused to give “further additional MOOE” for Senators Miriam Defensor Santiago, Alan Peter Cayetano, Pia Cayetano and Antonio Trillanes IV – either his vocal critics or members of the Senate minority.

The Senate President was responding to a Philippine Daily Inquirer report that came out Wednesday. The report said he gave 18 senators P1.6 million each as a cash gift billed as “additional MOOE” but he approved only P250,000 each to the 4 senators mentioned.

In his statement, Enrile said that all 23 senators got the first tranche of additional MOOE amounting to P600,000 each last November.

“It is not true that the 4 Senators did not get any additional MOOE. They each got P600,000. On top of that, I have approved ALL their requests for cash advances, realignment of various items in their respective Senator’s, Committee and Oversight Committee budgets to their MOOE so that they could use the same and any savings therefrom,” Enrile said.

Yet he admitted that he excluded himself and the 4 senators from the second tranche released before the Christmas break. The rest of the 18 senators were given the balance divided into two tranches of P1.3 million and P318,000.

“I stand by the exercise of my sole discretion not to authorize any further release of ADDITIONAL MOOE last December to the 4 senators,” Enrile said.

“It is time to call a spade a spade.”

“Senators Alan Peter Cayetano, Pia Cayetano and Antonio Trillanes are supposedly members of the Minority in the Senate. On the other hand, Senator Santiago’s supposed membership in the Majority is questionable to say the least, as she has publicly and repeatedly denounced and attacked me, just like Sen Trillanes.”

“She does not consider me a friend and I do not think she considers me as the head of the Senate and that is fine with me. Yet, masquerading as a member of the Majority, Sen Santiago continues to hold the chairmanship of the Committee on Constitutional Amendments plus 2 oversight committees with annual budgets of P15 million and P10 million.”

In an interview over Radyo Inquirer, Santiago called on the Commission on Audit to look into the so-called “savings” or “secret funds” of the Senate President, House Speaker and lawmakers. 

She said every month, each senator receives P2.2 million for staff salaries and office expenses but has the discretion over the funds and “can pocket the money if he wants to.” 

“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,” Santiago said. 

Trillanes said Enrile was playing favorites

‘Joker only real minority, so unlike Cayetanos’ 

For Trillanes and the Cayetanos, Enrile said they retain leadership of various Senate committees despite being in the minority:

  • Trillanes is chairman of the Civil Service Committee and Oversight Committee on Government Procurement with a budget of P10 million annually, recently just increased to P15 million
  • Alan Peter Cayetano, as minority leader, has a bigger budget than other senators. He also has a budget as a member of the Commission on Appointments, chairman of the E-Commerce Oversight Committee with an annual budget of P6 million, and a new oversight committee chairmanship he requested to be created with an annual budget of P10 million
  • Pia Cayetano chairs the Committee on Health and the Committee on Youth, Women and Family Relations, and the Clean Water Act oversight committee with an annual budget of 10 million. 

Enrile said, “Sen Joker Arroyo is the only member of the Minority who really and actually acts as a member of the Minority, doing his job at fiscalizing even more than the Minority Floor Leader.”

“He declined to chair any committee, regular or oversight, so unlike the Cayetano siblings,” Enrile added.

Miriam: He returned biscuits so I returned cash

The Senate President said he even granted the “lambing” of some senators to give P250,000 checks as “pamasko” (Christmas gift) for them but decided to give all senators the amount out of his office’s savings, not from the Senate President’s discretionary funds. 

“Last Monday, I was told that Sen Santiago sent me back a check for the same amount of P250,000 with a letter from her Chief of Staff explaining that the check I gave was inadvertenly deposited.”

“So Sen Santiago gave back my gift as I gave back hers. Fair enough,” Enrile said.

In her radio interview, Santiago admitted returning the cheque. “He returned my biscuits so I returned his cash.”

Enrile was referring to Santiago’s media statements that she was offended when Enrile returned her Christmas gift of Panaderia de Molo biscuits.

In response, Enrile said last December his staff made a mistake but admitted, “I am not a hypocrite. When I don’t like a person, I don’t like a person.”

In a text message, Trillanes also said, “I confirm that my office received a cheque of P250,000 from the Office of the Senate President last December which my office used to fund relief missions to the affected areas by Typhoon Pablo in Northern Mindanao. It was not given in cash and was not specified as a Christmas gift.” 

Enrile and the 4 senators have been on opposing sides in various issues. He admitted having a deep-seated animosity with Santiago from the days he was still Secretary of Justice. Santiago has described their relationship as “ice-cold.” 

The two again clashed on controversial measures last year like the Reproductive Health (RH) law and the sin tax reform law. Santiago and the Cayetanos pushed for the passage of the two laws while Enrile staunchly opposed the measures.

Enrile and Trillanes had a verbal spat on the Senate floor last year, when Trillanes bolted the majority and accused Enrile of railroading the bill dividing Camarines Sur.

Enrile responded by claiming that Trillanes sided with the Chinese in back-door negotiations on the territorial dispute over Scarborough Shoal. The Senate President used as basis supposed notes of then Ambassador to China Sonia Brady.

OLD RIVALRY. Enrile and Sen Miriam Defensor Santiago admit they have a deep-seated rivalry. Santiago warns of a plot to unseat Enrile as Senate President. File photo by Joe Arazas/Senate PRIB

Selective giving?

Enrile insisted that he exercised “prudence and equity” in handling Senate funds but stood by his decision not to give more money to his 4 critics.

“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 … 4 to be exact.”

He responded to reports that the release of the funds could be interpeted as a “bribe” to retain the Senate Presidency when session resumes on January 21.

Trillanes and Santiago have warned of a plot to unseat Enrile because of his stand on the two administration measures, and his position as a leader of the opposition United Nationalist Alliance (UNA).

Enrile said, “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 added.

Regular practice?

Rappler was able to get in touch with 3 senators who said they are still checking with their accountants and finance officers the amount they got in MOOE last Christmas.  

Senators Gregorio Honasan II and Ralph Recto said they were also not aware of the amounts their colleagues got.

They explained that the MOOE is regularly given to senators to fund official expenses like committee hearings and is not meant for personal use. They said the amount is subject to liquidation and auditing.

“We do receive the savings at the end of the year like in previous years. We received something like this in the past but I do not know if it reached this magnitude,” Recto said referring to the P1.6 million.

Asked about comments anonymous senators made in the Inquirer report that what Enrile did was “unconscionable and unconstitutional,” Recto said, “That is for the Commission on Audit to determine.”

Recto is a member of the ruling Liberal Party. Amid reports of a Senate coup last year, he was named as the person being eyed to replace Enrile as Senate President.

“I have said it clearly. I am not interested in the post and I do not think this has any connection. There has never been bribery for the Senate Presidency. Usually, the factors [in the change of leadership] are party affiliation, personal relationship with other senators and the leadership of the committees,” Recto said in a phone interview. 

Recto added, “This is my second term in the Senate. I have never heard of the MOOE being a factor in the vote for senate presidency.”

Sen Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III said he was only aware of the P250,000 cheque. 

Pimentel said in a text message, “My Chief of Staff told me last January 7 that the Senate President sent a cheque as ‘Christmas gift.’ I asked how much? She replied P250,000. And I replied same as last year, referring to 2011.” 

Honasan: Bring Enrile to court if you want

Honasan, an Enrile ally in the so-called Senate macho bloc, defended the Senate President.

“I don’t think it’s in the character of the Senate President to offer bribes to retain his position. He’s been quoted as saying he is ready to step down because he is getting tired,” he said in a phone interview.

Honasan said the process is that senators will request for additional MOOE from the Office of the Senate President and it is up to Enrile to grant or deny the request or give even more funds.

“To my best recollection, we do not get this only in Christmas but even midyear, during enrollment when employees will need cash advance for their children. There is no fixed amount. It depends on variables like savings.”

“The Senate President has discretion. He is the administrator of the Senate. We assume regularity. I presume no malice on both sides,” Honasan said.

On questions on the constitutionality of Enrile’s move, Honasan said, “That’s the problem when you (anonymous sources) don’t want to be identified. If you think it’s unconstitutional then challenge it before the Supreme Court. Take the Senate President to court.”

Honasan though admitted that there was “percolating tension” between Enrile and other “strong personalities” in the Senate resulting from the recent debates on the RH and sin tax laws.

Asked how the release of the MOOE will affect the Senate, Recto said, “It’s possible we will hold a caucus. It will be at the back of the mind of the senators.” – Rappler.com

Below is Enrile’s statement in full:

It is unfortunate that the Inquirer either refused to reveal or was requested by the Senators that its reporters interviewed to hide their identities, in relation to their statements on the issue of the additional MOOE of P1.6M I allegedly gave as “cash gifts” to 18 Senators.

                To set the record straight:

1.       While it is true that the vacant seat of one Senator is a source of additional funds for the Senate, the budget for that seat is not the only source of the Senate’s savings. As agreed in the past with all the Senators, the savings from the vacant seat may be used for the other expenditures and requirements of the Senate, including the augmentation of the budgets of the Senators serving their terms.

2.       Hence, towards the end of each year and before the holidays, the Senate Secretariat and the Senate’s budget office makes a determination of how much savings we have generated and how to allocate available savings, including the Christmas package for the Senate employees, what is due under the Collective Negotiation Agreement with the employees union (S.E.N.A.D.O), and what may be available for distribution as additional MOOE to the Senators’ offices.

3.       Since I became Senate President in November of 2008, I have always prioritized the needs of our employees before determining and exercising my discretion on the utilization of the remaining available savings. The records will show that since I became Senate President, I have granted the maximum benefits to our employees as our budgetary savings allow each year.

4.       Also as Senate President, I have authorized the grant to ALL Senators of the following amounts per Senator’s office as additional MOOE (Maintenance and Other Operating Expenses): For 2008-1M (former Senate President Villar had earlier released  a separate amount of P500,000); for 2009- 1M; for 2010- P1.316M;  P318,000; for 2011- P500,000, P1.3M, and P318,000.

5.       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.

6.       For year-end of 2012, the Senate budget office advised me that after all our obligations and projected expenses, the available amount for the additional MOOE for the Senators was a total of P2.218M for each Senator. The 1st tranche of this was in the amount of P600,000 and ALL THE 23 SENATORS’ OFFICES RECEIVED THE P600,000 additional MOOE last November.

7.       The balance was divided into 2 tranches of P1.3M and P318,000 in addition to the first P600,000, and these 2 tranches were approved by me for release before the Christmas holiday break, EXCEPT TO MYSELF AND 4 OTHER SENATORS, NAMELY, SENATORS ALAN CAYETANO, PIA CAYETANO, ANTONIO TRILLANES AND MIRIAM DEFENSOR SANTIAGO.

8.       I confirm that I gave the instructions to my Chief of Staff to exclude me and the 4 other Senators in the succeeding releases of any further additional MOOE. I also confirm that, as requested by the Senate Budget office, I approved the use of the amounts that I waived and those that I did not authorize to be released to the 4 Senators to be used by the Senate for its other expenditures. This is all on record.

It is not true that the 4 Senators did not get any additional MOOE. They each got P600,000. On top of that, I have approved ALL their requests for cash advances, realignment of various items in their respective Senator’s, Committee and Oversight Committee budgets to their MOOE so that they could use the same and any savings therefrom.

Any additional MOOE approved by the Senate President for each Senator is not a matter of ENTITLEMENT. Neither should such be mistaken as taken from the Senate President’s DISCRETIONARY FUNDS. The expenditures charged to the OSP’s discretionary funds are properly documented and I have made the same available even for the contingencies of the Secretariat and the needs of some Committees and Senators, as they would request from time to time.

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 4 Senators.

It is time to call a spade a spade.

Senators Alan Peter Cayetano, Pia Cayetano and Antonio Trillanes are supposedly members of the Minority in the Senate. On the other hand, Senator Santiago’s supposed membership in the Majority is questionable, to say the least, as she has publicly and repeatedly denounced and attacked me, just like Sen. Trillanes. She does not consider me a friend and I do not think she considers me as the head of the Senate and that is fine with me.

Yet, masquerading as a member of the Majority, Sen. Santiago continues to hold the chairmanship of the Committee on Constitutional Amendments plus 2 oversight committees with annual budgets of P15M and P 10M.

Sen. Trillanes, despite his move to the Minority, has retained the chairmanship of the Civil Service Committee and of the Oversight Committee on Government Procurement with a budget of P10 Million annually which was just recently increased to P15M.

The Minority Leader, Sen. Alan Cayetano, being an Officer of the Senate, has a bigger budget than the other Senators. He also has a budget as a member of the Commission on Appointments, the chairmanship of the E-Commerce Oversight Committee with an annual budget of P6M, and now a new oversight committee chairmanship (BCDA) which he requested to be created with an annual budget of P10M.

Senator Pia Cayetano chairs the Committee on Health and the Committee on Youth, Women and Family Relations plus the Clean Water Act oversight committee with an annual budget of P10M.

Sen. Joker Arroyo is the only member of the Minority who really and actually acts as a member of the Minority, doing his job at fiscalizing even more than the Minority Floor Leader. He declined to chair any committee, regular or oversight, so unlike the Cayetano siblings.

Regarding the P250,000 checks from my Office which I gave to all the Senators, that was a result of the “lambing” of some Senators who I will no longer name, if I had some “pamasko” for them. I decided to give to ALL, not only to those who were teasing me about “pamasko”, OUT OF MY OWN OFFICE’S SAVINGS, AND NOT FROM THE SENATE PRESIDENT’S DISCRETIONARY FUNDS.

Last Monday, I was told that Sen. Santiago sent me back a check for the same amount of P250,000 with a letter from her Chief of Staff explaining that the check I gave was inadvertently deposited. So Sen. Santiago gave back my gift, as I gave back hers. Fair enough.

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…4 to be exact.

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.

Each one of us must account to the people how we spend taxpayer’s money as we perform our jobs. I continue to serve solely at the pleasure of the majority of the members of the chamber, and we all owe it to the institution and the people to keep its honor and dignity.