An oversight?

The cash gifts controversy enveloping the Senate has forced it to take a long hard look at its practices. The recent harsh exchange of words on the Senate floor between Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and Senate Minority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano may have dragged the chamber’s reputation through the gutter, but if the flurry of acts and statements from various senators in the last several days is any guide, we may yet look forward to not only a cleaned-up Senate, but a clean slate.

Let us not delude ourselves; the hole the Senate has dug itself into is deep and wide. If current practices in spending office savings and accounting for expenses are prone to abuse and corruption, the solution lies not only in tightening procedures and instituting more safeguards, but in investigating whether there were in fact instances of abuse and corruption.

While it is possible to disagree with Cayetano’s populist idea to subject the Senate to a “people’s audit” (what’s wrong with the Commission on Audit?), we find it difficult to imagine anyone (except perhaps for certain senators) disagreeing with his demand: “We cannot sweep this under the rug.”

That there has been a doubling in the funds allotted for the MOOE of oversight committees since 2010, from P212 million in 2010 to over P442 million in 2012, is certainly troubling. Enrile, Senate accounts committee chair Sen. Panfilo Lacson and Senators Franklin Drilon and Aquilino Pimentel III are among the senators who have recently come forward to say that some form of resolute action must be taken to address the problem of inefficient, cost-ineffective, overstaying or bloated oversight committees—even though with three session days left in the 15th Congress the needed legislation will have to be the work of the 16th.

What are oversight committees? These are ad hoc or statutory creations meant to discharge the legislature’s power to oversee or review the actions of the executive branch.

Of the 35 “ad hoc” committees listed in the Senate’s own website, we find a wide range, from the highly specific (such as the Oversight Committee on the ARMM Organic Act, chaired by Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr.) to the broadly defined (such as the Special Oversight Committee on Economic Affairs, under Sen. Manny Villar, or the Oversight Committee on Climate Change, under Sen. Loren Legarda).

Each one was created either by Senate resolution or by a specific law.

But the Senate has 39 permanent committees, and many of them overlap with the oversight committees. So there is, for example, a Committee on Labor, Employment & Human Resource Development, chaired by Sen. Jinggoy Estrada, and a Congressional Oversight Committee on Labor and Employment, also chaired by Estrada. What justifies the P17.5-million MOOE budget allotted for the second committee? Is it possible to “fold” the functions of the second into the first?

What is the difference between Legarda’s Oversight Committee on Climate Change (with its P5.3-million MOOE budget), and her permanent Committee on Climate Change?

At a meeting with the chair of COA last week, both the Senate and the House of Representatives agreed to stop the practice of so-called liquidation by certification. This, Cayetano admitted, was “a good first step.”

Under the old arrangement, millions of pesos in MOOE funds were deemed liquidated or properly accounted for on the mere say-so of a lawmaker. Not a single lawmaker has defended this practice (although many must have taken advantage of it), because, really, it is indefensible. A system which does not require official receipts or any other proof of expense is vulnerable to corruption.

But much more needs to be done.

The case for reviewing the status of each ad hoc or oversight committee and for reducing their number, and for instituting tighter measures on spending and accounting, seems hard to refute. But politics being the art of compromise, and because change is always a difficult undertaking, the push for reform must be coupled with public pressure on both the Senate and the House of Representatives. We the people have our own oversight powers too.

Follow Us

Follow us on Facebook Follow on Twitter Follow on Twitter

More from this Column:

Recent Stories:

Complete stories on our Digital Edition newsstand for tablets, netbooks and mobile phones; 14-issue free trial. About to step out? Get breaking alerts on your mobile.phone. Text ON INQ BREAKING to 4467, for Globe, Smart and Sun subscribers in the Philippines.

Short URL: http://opinion.inquirer.net/?p=46219

Tags: Alan Peter Cayetano , Government , Graft and Corruption , Juan Ponce Enrile , Senate , Senate Funds , Senate Oversight Committees , State Budget

Copyright © 2014, .
To subscribe to the Philippine Daily Inquirer newspaper in the Philippines, call +63 2 896-6000 for Metro Manila and Metro Cebu or email your subscription request here.
Factual errors? Contact the Philippine Daily Inquirer's day desk. Believe this article violates journalistic ethics? Contact the Inquirer's Reader's Advocate. Or write The Readers' Advocate:
c/o Philippine Daily Inquirer Chino Roces Avenue corner Yague and Mascardo Streets, Makati City, Metro Manila, Philippines Or fax nos. +63 2 8974793 to 94


  • Title of new Hillary Clinton book: ‘Hard Choices’
  • Filipinos, Dutch re-enact crucifixion of Christ
  • 14 killed in car bombing in Homs
  • 57-nation group plays key Ukraine monitoring role
  • French President Hollande’s top aide resigns
  • Sports

  • Nadal ousted by Ferrer in Monte Carlo quarters
  • Pacquiao shorts in Bradley fight sold for P1.7M in LA auction
  • Ryu pitches Dodgers past Giants
  • Alonso sets the pace in Chinese GP practice
  • Heat seek Three-peat but Spurs, Pacers top seeds
  • Lifestyle

  • Levine designs womenswear with help from fiancee
  • Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Nobel laureate, dies at 87
  • Ford Mustang turns 50 atop Empire State Building
  • Pro visual artists, lensmen to judge Pagcor’s photo contest
  • ‘Labahita a la bacalao’
  • Entertainment

  • EXO postpones release of mini album ‘Overdose’
  • ‘X-men’ filmmaker slams ‘fabricated’ sex attack claims
  • Singer Chris Brown’s bodyguard on trial in DC
  • Whoopi Goldberg debuts as marijuana columnist
  • ‘X-men’ director accused of sex assault on teen boy
  • Business

  • Italy sells luxury state cars on eBay
  • Asian shares mostly up in quiet trade
  • Dollar up in Asia on US jobs data, Ukraine deal
  • Barbie doll has a problem
  • Oil prices mixed ahead of long Easter weekend
  • Technology

  • Nasa’s moon-orbiting robot crashes down
  • Netizens pay respects to Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  • Nokia recalls 30,000 chargers for Lumia 2520 tablet
  • Facebook rolls out ‘nearby friends’ feature
  • Netizens seethe over Aquino’s ‘sacrifice’ message
  • Opinion

  • Editorial cartoon, April 17, 2014
  • A humbler Church
  • Deepest darkness
  • ‘Agnihotra’ for Earth’s health
  • It’s the Holy Week, time to think of others
  • Global Nation

  • Filipina accomplice arrested for fake bills in Malaysia
  • DoH denies Filipino nurse no longer positive for MERS virus
  • WHO warns vs spread of MERS-Cov, urges vigilance in taking precautions
  • Last call for nominations to ’14 Presidential Awards
  • San Francisco business coalition slams proposed tax on sugary drinks
  • Marketplace