II. Not the Grant but Its Abuse
GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/1 February) –The grant of discretion in the disposition of savings is not corruption. It is provided in the Constitution and other laws. What constitutes corruption is the abuse of this discretion. This we discussed in Part I.
The discretion is intended to meet immediate or urgent needs only. Discretion is limited to these needs without or beyond which the general principle — Revert savings to the general funds or the national treasury – should be followed.
Discretion is not only in the disposition of savings but in the use of power and authority vested in the President and other key officials of government either by the Constitution or through the President. The grant is not corruption; but, by abuse it abets corruption. This, too, is the source of grand corruption.
Abusing legality in the unconscionable conversion of savings to MOOE or PEI is moral and ethical perversion. As perverted, if not more, is the method used in accumulating savings. Both Budget Circular 2012-3 and Administrative Order No. 24 enjoin LGUs to be prudent that in granting PEIs “the expenditure will not, in any way, adversely affect the delivery of services to the public”.
The practice is to the contrary. Projects are suspended; vacant and new office positions not filled; and purchase of office supplies limited to have savings. Is this not sacrificing the delivery of public service? Are those projects, office positions and supplies not for the enhancement of public service? If not, including them in the budget proposal is plain deceit and dishonesty. The same practice is done in Congress, the Supreme Court, etc.
In proposing last January 17 to include in regular budgets government bonuses in any name or form, Sen. Francis Escudeo revealed that departments would “propose to us items, positions or programs they don’t intend or plan to implement from the very start”. (Philippine Daily Inquirer, January 17, 2013: Escudero wants gov’t bonuses included in regular budgets) As his example, Congress approved funding for 15,000 new teachers in the Department of Education; only 7,000 were appointed.
The Senate had 2,162 permanent positions for 2012 including the senators and their staff; 269 were unfilled, hence, a saving of P51.8 million in salaries. Add to this the P112,000 savings from the 52 unfilled positions in the Senate Electoral Tribunal. With the SET, the Senate had a total budget of P2.905 billion. The unreported savings from other items of the budget must be substantial. The additional MOOE was only P29.8 million; the Senate still had more than P22 million left of its savings from salaries alone.
Inquirer columnist Raul C. Pangalangan, in his column article of September 29, 2011 commenting on “the discretion to ‘realign’ the millions left unspent each year by the constitutional bodies” which is at the core of the fight between the Supreme Court and Malacanang over the Court’s budget, wrote:
“Apparently, some P2 billion of the budget for constitutional bodies is for personnel positions that are left unfilled. The current practice is that those funds, once released to the agency and if left unspent, become a virtual piggy bank to be spent at the discretion of the agency head. The Executive now proposes that the amount be placed in a separate fund to be held in trust for the agency and to be released only upon proof that the position has been filled.”
Not only Congress but the Supreme Court also! Can Malacañang look them straight in the eyes without blinking?
Abuse or Power
Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile has dared the four senators who are bitter against him to take him to court. Such, too, is his implied challenge to any of his critics outside of the Senate. He said the MOOE is subject to auditing by the Commission on Audit; he gave out checks not cash so COA can pinpoint the source. He is cocksure to come legally clean out of an investigation.
COA Chair Grace Pulido-Tan has cleared Enrile and Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. of any legal wrong even as she sees the need of an audit. That legality of the disposition of their savings will be found in favor of the Senate and the House is foregone. Congress has made sure of this inevitability.
The concurrent resolution [Referred to by COA as Numbered “5” but “6” in the Senate version dated June 7, 2011] adopted by both Houses of Congress in June 2011 cited RA 10147, the General Appropriations Act, as having conferred on the Senate President and House Speaker the authority “to formulate and implement the organizational structure of their respective offices and such offices under their administrative control, and to fix the salaries, allowances and other benefits of their respective employees”.
This authority is constitutional and is provided annually in GAAs. However, Congress, in the resolution, made this authority absolute – “granted notwithstanding the provisions of any law to the contrary, and is limited only by the appropriations granted” in the GAA. Is this the intent of the exception-clause “… may, by law, be authorized …” of Article VI, Section 25(5) of the 1987 Constitution? In so doing, Congress can be construed to have revised the Constitution for the sole benefit of its members.
Of corollary interest is Tan’s revelation that while the Constitution has limited fiscal autonomy to the President, Senate President, House Speaker, the Chief Justice and heads of the Constitutional Commissions, Section 53 of RA 10155, the 2012 GAA, includes the Ombudsman; and in Section 56 authorizes fiscal autonomy to “… Departments, agencies and offices” although just limited to “any item within Personal Services and MOOE …”
Tan has revealed through the media some legal screens that protect Congress and its members:
- COA could audit the MOOE only with the consent of Congress. ”Savings and MOOE of the Senators can be realigned to other purposes like bonus of their employees.” To liquidate their savings and MOOE, only a certification of how these were spent – not vouchers and receipts – is required. (Manila Bulletin, January 18, 2013: Audit of Senate, House Needed.)
- Whether the savings were used excessively “is something only the constituents of the respective legislators can determine” – not COA. (Sun-Star/ Sunnex, January 12, 2013: COA: Realignment of Senate savings legal.)
- It is “beyond (COA’s) mandate” to enumerate which savings are valid for augmentation. That mandate “is to examine and validate if the augmentation is in fact sourced from savings”, and whether “requirements of law have been complied with in effecting such augmentation and/or realignment”. (GMA News, January 23, 2013: (COA: Gov’t heads can augment items from savings.)
Interestingly, COA must audit according to law. However, Congress prescribes the law. On reflection, the “What are we in power for?” that Jose D. Avelino declared when he was Senate President and Liberal Party President has not been lost to the Senate and House leaders.
Who’s fooling who
Should it be wondered that some senators and House representatives have told media they would spend their additional MOOE the way they like — on matters other than what the MOOE is for? They knew all those statements from Enrile and Tan about “auditing” their MOOE were only for media consumption.
How would they spend their MOOE? Help the victims of Typhoon “Pablo”. Give the employees of their field offices their 13th month pay and Christmas bonuses. Use the funds to visit their constituents. And so on and so forth.
As the Senate President and House Speaker warned, they will be audited. As Tan said, COA will do the audit; the results will be furnished the Senate President and the House Speaker and will be uploaded in the COA website that can be accessed by interested parties including media.
Who’s fooling who? Will the people know specifically where their money really went – if they are interested at all? How many Filipinos are bothered by the truth?
What’s that truth? As Wikipedia has defined in clear terms, “Government, or ‘political’, corruption occurs when an office-holder or other governmental employee acts in an official capacity for his or her own personal gain.”
Of course, under the cloaks of legality, Congress and the LGUs will always assure the people that the diversion of their money was for the better performance of duty by the members of Congress and the employees of the local governments. The people and country will be the ultimate beneficiaries. Should the people shout: “Bravo!” or “Who’s fooling who?”
Can the President stop these legally cloaked grand corruptions? He can, declaring for a far nobler purpose Avelino’s “What are we in power for?” to fulfill his social contract with the Filipino people. But he cannot, if he continues looking from his blind side like other Presidents before him did.
(To Be Continued)
(“Comment” is Mr. Patricio P. Diaz’ column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. The Titus Brandsma Media Awards recently honored Mr. Diaz with a “Lifetime Achievement Award” for his “commitment to education and public information to Mindanawons as Journalist, Educator and Peace Advocate.” You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.)