Senators agree to give COA docs on funds

Ayee Macaraig

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Senators agree to provide vouchers and receipts to liquidate their use of taxpayers' money

'BAD IMAGE.' Sen Panfilo Lacson says the Senate cannot argue with COA's request for documents, especially at a point when its public image is low. Photo by Ayee Macaraig

MANILA, Philippines – Senators have agreed to produce receipts and other documents — not just certification — on how they use taxpayers’ money.

In a one-hour caucus on Monday, January 28, senators agreed to do away with the long-held practice of just issuing mere certifications to justify their use of funds.

The agreement was reached after a bitter and weeks-long squabble between Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, his allies, and minority senators.

Sen Panfilo Lacson told reporters of the agreement, which effectively reverses Concurrent Resolution No 10 allowing the system of liquidation by way of certification. The resolution was passed by both chambers of Congress in 2011.

“The meat of the discussion in the caucus is to comply [with rules] and henceforth no longer liquidate by mere certification. When we liquidate, we now use vouchers, official receipts and the like, all liquidating instruments,” Lacson said.

“At the end of the day, we cannot argue especially at this point when the image of the Senate, the public perception is low for the Senate. No one can argue with what COA wants because the bickering already began.” 

In the caucus, senators discussed the Commission on Audit’s (COA) letter to Lacson, who is chairman of the Committee on Accounts.

In a letter dated January 28, COA Chairperson Ma Gracia Pulido Tan sought Lacson’s help in making available papers and other documents related to the augmentation and realignment of Senate funds, and the use of Maintenance and Other Operating Expenses (MOOE).

Tan requested the documents to carry out a “no-holds barred” audit of Senate funds.

Lacson said, “We will submit all the available documents and papers in the possession of our accounting department to the COA. I asked them how fast or how soon they can comply with the request. They said, by tomorrow, they can submit to COA.”

The agreement is a resolution of sorts to the controversy over the Senate funds. The issue stemmed from Enrile’s decision to exclude 4 critics from the receipt of P1.6 million each in additional MOOE last December.

Senate Minority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano, Senators Miriam Defensor Santiago, Pia Cayetano, and Antonio Trillanes IV only got the first tranche of MOOE of P600,000 each in November, and a Christmas cash gift of P250,000 each.

Last week, Cayetano questioned how much of the amounts Enrile was able to liquidate by mere certification, and how much with receipts and vouchers.

As the concurrent resolution was filed by both Houses of Congress, Lacson said Enrile already informed Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr of the Senate decision.

“It’s their call if they will waive [the resolution] or rescind it but for us, no ifs and buts, we are complying with what COA wants.”

No private audit of Senate funds

Lacson also revealed that the senators agreed with COA’s position that it should be the body responsible for any audit of Senate funds.

Sen Alan Peter Cayetano is set to file a resolution asking for a parallel audit, possibly involving a private audit firm or what he called an “independent people’s audit.”

In her letter to Lacson, Tan cited Article VI, Section 20 of the Constitution, stating that the COA shall audit all the books and records of Congress. “No law shall be passed exempting any entity of the Government … from the jurisdiction of the Commission on Audit.”

Lacson said the letter in effect rejected Cayetano’s proposal.

“The COA’s letter to us was clear. She said there will be no other auditor that can audit government funds except COA. Implicitly, it says that we do not allow a private auditing firm and even any volunteer or pro bono auditor. That is still not binding because at the end of the day, it is COA that should be followed in case of conflict.”

Cayetano said he will file the resolution on Monday but has yet to do so.

Lacson said though that the Senate will still give Cayetano the courtesy of having his resolution heard once it is filed.

“We were not the ones who rejected it. The COA said there are pertinent provisions of the Constitution. We cannot allow a private auditing firm so there is no choice.”

Practice ‘since time immemorial’

The resolution allowing mere certification has been cited as a factor in the difficulty of auditing Senate funds.

Lacson said it was hard to trace when the practice started.

“It’s been there since time immemorial. The resolution that we passed just maintained the prevailing system …. Even the old-timers cannot recall when the practice started because it’s been happening when they became senators.”

Asked if the agreement meant a ceasefire after weeks of intense and personal exchanges, Lacson said, “It’s a qualified yes.”

“We also talked about a ceasefire but the problem is those who were not there, maybe the agreement of a ceasefire does not cover them.”

Majority senators or Enrile allies attended the caucus. Santiago is still on sick leave. –


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