Editor’s Note: Below is the keynote speech she delivered on July 15, 2013 at the opening ceremonies of the 2013 National Accountancy Week celebration by the Philippine Institute of Certified Public Accountants, at the Intercontinental Hotel, Makati City.
The principle of fiscal transparency is defined by the International Monetary Fund as: “the clarity, reliability, frequency, timeliness, and relevance of public fiscal reporting and the openness to the public of the government’s fiscal policy-making process.”
In a culture of corruption, fiscal transparency helps to check corruption in high office by enabling the people to hold the government, and particularly the Senate, to account for its fiscal performance and the use of public resources. Government transparency is also defined as the ability of the Filipino public to gain access to the facts, figures, documents, decisions, and other aspects of government.
History shows that corrupt governments have always sought to limit transparency. Controlling information is central to maintaining political power. Hence, leaders of authoritarian regimes refused to explain the mechanics of the state apparatus to their subjects.
All these changed with the American Revolution in 1771-83, and with the French Revolution in 1789-99. As a result, transparency entered the political discourse as a priority for governments and citizens. The modern paradigms of transparency are: the system of checks and balances among the three branches of government; and the role of the press in fighting for increased access to public officials and their public policy decisions.
I take this opportunity to reiterate my support for the Freedom of Information Act. We need to increase the transparency of government actions, and the motivations of public officials, specially senators.
I wish to make it of record that I am against certain exceptions to transparency, because I believe that these exceptions constitute a channel for the desire of government to still protect its power through the restriction of information to the public.
Such exceptions include: bureaucratic red tape and other techniques; invoking national security; and asserting certain privileges, or hiding behind an official secrets law. All of these claimed exceptions are simply the efforts of politicians to protect their power, by not allowing the public to know their actions while they are in office.
I strongly advocate to you as distinguished members of the Institute of Certified Public Accountants to compel elected public officials to observe the principle of accountability. Specifically, every senator should acknowledge and assume responsibility for his elected position, including the responsibility to report and justify the consequences of actions taken within the scope of his role as senator. If these responsibilities are not met, then there should be sanctions for Senate officers who fail to meet their responsibility to report and justify, in using public funds.
Hold us accountable
Your Institute has the unique ability to hold senators and congressmen responsible for their actions in their official capacities with respect to the use of public funds. The Institute should base this role as actors in civil society, by invoking the two accepted theories of accountability: the principal-agent theory; and the theory of moral responsibility.
Under the principal-agent theory, the principal is the voter who selects his agent, meaning the senator, to choose actions that benefit the interest of the principal or the public.
Under the agency theory, senators should increase accountability by making their actions on public funds more observable to their constituents. As for the moral responsibility model of accountability, the Institute should focus on internal feelings of obligation and duty that the Senate should inculcate in its members.
The principle of transparency has been officially adopted by the Philippine Constitution in two provisions. The first provision is found under the Bill of Rights and provides: “The right of the people to information on matters of public concern shall be recognized.” (Art. 3, Sec. 7).
The second provision states: “Public office is a public trust. Public offices and employees must at all times be accountable to the people . . . .” (Art. 11, Sec. 1).
A senator’s sources of income
These are the sources of income of a senator:
- Salary as senator – P 90,000 based on the Salary Standardization Law. The gross amount is P 90,000 a month but after deductions, the take-home pay is about P60,000 a month.
- Honorarium as Senate officer – the Senate officers are the Senate President, Senate Protempore, Majority Leader, and Minority Leader.
- Office of the Senator, including :
- Monthly funds for Personal Services
- Monthly funds for MOOE (Maintenance and Other Operating Expenses)
- Travel allowance (international)
- Capital Outlay
- Additional MOOE
- Permanent Committees
- Oversight Committees
- Commission on Appointments
- Senate Electoral Tribunal.
According to the 2011 COA Report, a regular senator, meaning one who is not a Senate officer, received some P43 million per annum. This income basically came from the funds for the Office of the Senator, plus the funds for permanent committees to which the senator belonged. But the Senate officials received additional income as follows:
- Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile – P 71.7 million, or 166.30% more
- Senate Protempore Jinggoy Estrada – P 9.3 million, or 21.69% more
- Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III – P 9.3 million, or 21.64% more
- Minority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano – P 10.2 million, or 23.67% more
Each regular senator is given funds in the approximate amount of P63.3 million per annum, but the senators collectively control and are accountable only for 47.49% of the total Senate budget.
Here is the deep, dark secret: the Senate President controls the remaining 52.51% of the Senate budget, or the total amount of P 1.7 billion for 2013. Thus, when Enrile was Senate President, he controlled over 50% of the Senate budget. But he proved that with great power comes great conceit, and perhaps megalomania.
I obtained these figures covering the period January to December 2011 from the COA. Here are the amounts from Senate funds paid to every senator in the descending order of the amounts:
1. Juan Ponce Enrile, P 118 million
2. Jinggoy Estrada, P 62 million
3. Vicente Sotto III, P 56 million
4. Alan Peter Cayetano, P 55 million
5. Antonio Trillanes IV, P 54.9 million
6. Ferdinand Marcos, Jr., P 49 million
7. Ramon Revilla, Jr., P 49 million
8. Francis Escudero, P 48.7 million
9. Gregorio Honasan II, P 47 million
10. Francis Pangilinan, P 46 million
11. Loren Legarda, P 44 million
12. Aquilino Pimentel III, P 43.9 million
13. Manuel Lapid, P 43.5 million
14. Ralph Recto, P 42 million
15. Pia Cayetano, P 42 million
16. Edgardo Angara, P 41.7 million
17. Teofisto Guingona III, P 41.5 million
18. Miriam Defensor Santiago, P 41 million
19. Manny Villar, P 40 million
20. Sergio Osmena III, P 37.6 million
21. Panfilo Lacson, P 37 million
22.Franklin Drilon, P 34.9 million
23. Joker Arroyo, P 31.8 million
To summarize, the senator who received and spent the most Senate funds was Senator Enrile, with P 118 million for the year 2011 alone. The senator who spent the smallest amount for that year was Senator Arroyo at P 31.8 million. The rest of the senators received more or less some 40 million for the year, including myself with P 41 million.
I have given you a table of the sources of income of a regular senator. My figures are based on averages, because senators have variable number of staff, variable number of memberships in oversight committees, and other dissimilarities. The funds for monthly expenses in the Office of the Senator consist of the following:
- Capital outlay – P 16 million
- Travel allowance – P 59 million
- Savings – If the Office of the Senator is able to set aside savings, they are realigned as additional MOOE.
- Additional MOOE – The additional MOOE for each office of the senator is distributed upon discretion of the Senate President. Traditionally, this amount comes from the budget of the unoccupied office of the 24thsenator.
- The permanent committees of the Senate deal with their savings and with liquidation using the same procedure as the Office of the Senator. With oversight committees, usually the annual budget is from P 5 million to P 38 million. Most of the oversight committees have a budget of some P 10 million to P 20 million. There are also honoraria for the chair and members of oversight committees which are listed as extraordinary and miscellaneous expenses, also known as EME.
If a senator is a member of the Commission on Appointments, he is given P 50,000 per month as additional MOOE.
The tradition is that the Senate President enjoys discretion in the grant of additional MOOE to every senator. However, last Christmas, Mr. Enrile sought to exclude four senators, including myself, from the grant of additional MOOE in the sum of P 1.6 million for each senator.
As far as I know, no senator who received this amount questioned this scandalous exercise of discretion, which is a plainly partisan political act. I shall have more to say about this anomaly, in my privilege speech after Congress opens, as soon as I am medically fit to attend sessions.
As a lawyer specializing in constitutional law and a former trial judge, I believe that the issue of Mr. Enrile’s overt and admitted partiality in the use of public funds is a justiciable issue, for the Constitutions defines judicial power as the duty of the courts to, among others, “determine whether or not there has been a grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction on the part of any branch or instrumentality of the government.”
The Senate President, like any other public official, is prohibited from abusing his discretion by making personal dispositions, based on his personal sentiments and violative of the Equal Protection Clause.
Based on the grave abuse of discretion exercised by the former Senate President, it is time to remove from the Senate President the power to control over 50 percent of the total Senate budget. I have already said that for 2011 alone, he received as his personal income alone the gargantuan sum of P118 million. Mr. Enrile should be held accountable for 52.8 percent of the total Senate budget for every year that he was Senate President.
Members of the so-called oversight committees, which are bicameral with members from both the House of Representatives and the Senate, received honoraria which I believe are excessive. A senator’s annual gross salary is someP1 million. But on the average, a senator is a member of seven oversight committees.
Thus, he receives P 2.5 million annually in so-called extraordinary and miscellaneous expenses or EME. The EME that he receives is more than double his salary, which is not equitable. I humbly propose that the EME for oversight committees should constitute no more than 50 percent of a senator’s salary.
Today, the Senate is rethinking the previous policy of Mr. Enrile, that certain amounts received by a senator could be liquidated by simply signing a certification that the money has been spent. The new Senate that opens this July will have the power to retain or to reform the system. This will need the majority vote of the senators.
For my part, I believe that starting with this new Congress, it is better to adopt the new rules proposed by COA that expenditures for the items called Capital Outlay (or CO), Maintenance and Other Operating Expenses (or MOOE), and Personal Expenses (or PS), should be liquidated by receipts and other supporting documents. Expenditures should be made only for account items which are specified by COA. Non-supported expenditures should be disallowed.
Savings, which were previously realigned as additional MOOE, should be returned to the Senate. I did this in good faith during my first year as senator, but was roundly attacked by my colleagues who resented what I did, because it showed how much they kept for themselves.
My strongest recommendation is that the practice of giving the Senate President the discretion to release additional MOOE funds for each office of the senator should be removed. Just because one senator has left his office is no reason to avail of the monies allocated for his office, as additional MOOE. It makes the additional MOOE the personal pork barrel of the Senate President.
In the hands of a corrupt Senate President, this discretionary power over additional MOOE becomes a tool not only of corruption but also of oppression, and of ugly politics.
In insisting that the public have a right to know what senators do with public money, I strongly adhere to what the English poet John Milton said: “Truth is compared in scripture to a streaming fountain; if her waters flow not in a perpetual progression, they sicken into a muddy pool of conformity and tradition. . . . For who knows not that Truth is strong, next to the Almighty. She needs no policies, nor strategems, nor licensings, to make her victorious – those are the shifts and the defense that error uses against her power. Give her but room, and do not bind her while she sleeps. . . .” – Rappler.com