Viewpoint

‘Dark money’

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Are Senate pledges to come clean on the multibillion-peso “maintenance and other operating expenses” scam mere “CYA”?

“Cover your ass” is jargon for tactics to shield oneself from penalties for shady dealings. Will “CYA” smother Concurrent Resolution No. 10? CR10 has so far blocked audits of MOOE and other funds, so taxes wouldn’t morph into “dark money.”

Senators adopted CR10 on Aug. 24, 2011. “The moment you show cash, everyone speaks the same language.” The House scrambled to catch up on Feb. 1, 2012. Since then, CR10 has barred state auditors from even asking how much Congress lavishes on itself. Questions on how money is doled, by free-spending legislators, became verboten.

“The two most beautiful words in the English language are ‘check enclosed,’” columnist Dorothy Parker once wrote. Gift-wrapped for Christmas, the P1.6-million checks, doled to 18 friendly senators, were lambing, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile explained.

That was chicken feed, Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano snapped. From 2008 to 2013, the Senate’s MOOE bolted from P759 million to P1.57 billion. An overdue audit may fill in the blanks about House splurges.

However, “stop” is not in the vocabulary of greed. The Senate barreled on to exempt members from submitting receipts, vouchers, etc. A legislator’s certification will do, thank you, CR10 provides.

Senators scribble a “special power of attorney” or SPA, and bingo! Hard-earned taxpayer pesos flood in for salaries and allowances even for untallied staff. Does a senator or congressman have 10 employees? Maybe 40? Ghosts? Who knows?

“A greedy father will have thieves for children,” a Serbian proverb warns. So, the Commission on Audit tried to get legislators to account for funds “realigned” to the MOOE kitty. Is that a more antiseptic word for “smuggled”? To thumb their noses at accounting for the shekels, legislators hefted CR10. “Money is not everything. But it’s right up there—with oxygen.”

Before doctors shushed her for inviting a heart attack by interview-outbursts, Sen. Miriam Santiago flayed the P250,000 pittance that she, plus other “critical” senators—Antonio Trillanes, Cayetano brother and sister—got.

Why ladle additional MOOE in December when “all official transactions of the Senate are completed by then?” Santiago fumed. “So that on Christmas you can give yourselves and your colleagues savings to keep them quiet?  Does ‘public purposes’ mean … you give a senator a cash gift of [P1.6] million? That senator will lie and produce a paper saying the money was for public purpose but actually pocketed it… This ‘racket’ is practiced in the Senate…”

Enrile’s P1.6-million “Christmas gifts,” the resignation of his chief of staff, who dubbed critics “hypocrites,” and COA badgering swirled into public fury. They’re forcing Congress to agree to an overdue hard look at CR10.

“The Senate needs an enema to purge the toxins,” Sen. Panfilo Lacson said. “The Senate can still recover from this controversy… But it needs to act promptly. Follow my example,” he prodded colleagues. “My office staff has been ordered to open all our books.”

Did the man say “all”? That includes his authorship of CR10. The resolution was “not in our consciousness” when it was passed, Lacson mumbled. The adoption of his “brainchild” slipped through “unnoticed amid many others that the Senate approved.”

Really? Just like absent-minded senators when Sen. Tito Sotto snuck in his rider on libel into the cybercrime bill?  Lacson does not suffer from Alzheimer’s vacuums. He is nobody’s fool. So, was this selective amnesia on a major “innovation” like CR10? Merely “CYA”?

Lacson, who has spurned pork barrel allocations, said he wouldn’t mind if his handiwork were shredded. Is this a ruthless Saul turned into an evangelizing Paul? Nonsense, snap Lacson’s critics, who quote the Ilocano proverb, “Ti uwak uray agdigos, nangisit latta (Although it bathes, the crow remains black).”

COA Chair Grace Pulido Tan, meanwhile, has informed the Senate that her agency is starting a “no-holds-barred audit,” in line with its constitutional mandate. Tan has asked that auditors be given access to all relevant documents in a letter to the chair of accounts—by happenstance, Lacson.

Senators opted to beat the COA to the draw. In a caucus, they agreed to scrap “certification.” Senators must now file receipts, vouchers, etc. No irony intended, the senators authorized Lacson to make public the agreement to shred CR10.

Enrile informed Speaker Feliciano Belmonte of the Senate decision to bail out. Lacson added: “It’s the House’s call if they will waive [the resolution] or rescind it. But for us, no ifs and buts. The Senate will comply.”

As the COA begins to sift “dark money” records, Sen. Aquilino Pimentel III filed Senate Resolution No. 930. This seeks to curb an epidemic of 35 congressional “oversight committees” that chew up another P400 million yearly.

The committees sprawl from biofuels, labor, disaster risk reduction, to special purpose vehicles. Merge their duties with that of appropriate legislative committees, Pimentel sensibly proposed.

“I’m a poor man with money—which is not the same thing,” says a character in a novel by Nobel Laureate Gabriel Garcia Marquez. In Congress, many are paupers of the spirit who gorge on our taxes. They swear by Napoleon Bonaparte’s axiom, “Money has no fatherland,” and have turned both chambers, meant for statesmen, into a den of thieves.

If Tan’s audit succeeds, she’ll enter history as one of the COA’s giants. She will also ensure our grandchildren are spared “dark money.”

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E-mail: juan_mercado77@yahoo.com

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