Why a P127-M budget for SET in 2014?
Senate President Franklin Drilon was the lone guest at the Kapihan sa Manila at the Diamond Hotel last Monday. Drilon talked about a lot of things: the 2014 budget (the biggest in the entire history of the Philippines) which would be tackled next week by the bicameral conference committee; the Freedom of Information bill which has already passed the committee and is now in the plenary; the parole for former governor Antonio Leviste (Drilon said there are rules in the grant of parole to prisoners, and it should be ascertained if these rules were followed); the proposed tax exemption to Manny Pacquiao (Drilon said he does not think that is the idea of Pacquiao and that he expects a statement from him rejecting the exemption); the rehabilitation of typhoon-devastated areas (Drilon said he thinks Lacson is the right man for the job), among other subjects.
But it was the budget of the Senate Electoral Tribunal (SET) that perked the interest of the reporters. Election lawyer Romulo Macalintal had questioned the SET’s P127-million budget for next year. A reporter asked the Senate President about this. Macalintal happened to be in the room, and Drilon invited him to sit beside him and explain the problem.
Macalintal said there will be no election in 2014 and so no election cases involving a member of the Senate will be adjudicated by the SET. Therefore, there is no need for a budget for the SET in 2014.
What would the members of the SET be doing in the three years before the election of 2016, he asked. But instead of abolishing or reducing its budget, the Senate increased it from P124 million to P127 million. Why? Not only that, there is an appropriation of P25.9 million for “filling up unfilled positions.” What would the new appointees be doing during the three years before the 2016 elections?
There is also an appropriation of P21.6 million for six co-terminus legislative staff members for each SET member. “If ever,” Macalintal said, “only one legislative employee is needed for each SET member since there will be no legislative activities in the SET for the entire duration of 2014.”
Macalintal said he referred the matter to the House of Representatives’ committee on appropriations but got only a “curt reply from its chair, Rep. Isidro Ungab, who said that ‘we traditionally respect parliamentary courtesy of not scrutinizing the budget of the SET’.” What for does Congress hold budget hearings? Does not Congress hold the power of the purse with its corresponding responsibility not to waste the people’s taxes on unnecessary expenses?
Macalintal said he sent a similar query to Senate President Drilon. The Senate President said he answered Macalintal informing him that he forwarded his letter to the chair of the SET requesting that he answer the query.
There are nine members of the SET headed by the chief justice. Aside from their salaries, each SET member receives a monthly expense allowance of P20,000, plus reimbursement of miscellaneous expenses of P19,166, and reimbursement for “additional expenses” of P82,000, for a total of P121,166.
Thus, for nine SET members, a total of P13.68 million is annually paid in allowances, which is not taxable “since these are not considered income and could be paid to them by a mere certification in the payroll,” according to the secretary of the SET.
Since there is no election in 2014 and no election cases to be adjudicated by the SET, Macalintal said that the P20,000 monthly allowance is already reasonable for each SET member. That would amount to only P2.1 million a year (instead of the P13.068 million in the proposed budget), or P10.908 million in savings per annum.
A senator already receives similar, if not higher, allowances as a regular member of the Senate, Macalintal said. A justice receives higher allowances as a member of the Supreme Court and as a member of the Presidential Electoral Tribunal.
Macalintal also questioned the appropriation of P2.225 million “representation allowance” under “Other Compensation” for each SET member. He pointed out that there is already an appropriation of P750,000 for “representation expenses” under the MOOE account.
“As a matter of fact,” Macalintal said, “all of the above items should not even be spent by the SET and/or its members in 2013 since no election cases have been filed nor are being adjudicated this year by the SET.”
Macalintal believes that “this is a very important matter which the Commission on Audit has to take into consideration when it audits the expenses of the SET for the year 2013.”
Because of these unnecessary appropriations, a total of P85.553 million can be deducted from the SET budget for 2014.
He itemized these deductions as follows:
1. Allowances of SET members: P10.908 million.
2. Other compensation: P30.383 million.
3. Miscellaneous and other expenses: P22.662 million.
4. Salaries of co-terminus legislative Staff/director: P21.6 million
Total suggested deductions: P85.553 million
From all these, it is clear that the members of Congress are very liberal with the people’s hard-earned tax payments. The national government is faced with enormous expenses for the rehabilitation and reconstruction of areas devastated by Supertyphoon “Yolanda,” by the earthquake in Bohol, and by the war with the Moro National Liberation Front in Zamboanga.
Congress should conserve government resources so that they can be used for relief, rehabilitation and reconstruction.
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