Comelec stops payments for P1.9-B PRA property
Christina Mendez (The Philippine Star) - November 14, 2012 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - Wary of a possible impeachment case against him, Commission on Elections (Comelec) Chairman Sixto Brillantes Jr. has stopped payment for the P1.9-billion land being purchased by the agency from the Philippine Retirement Authority (PRA).

Brillantes admitted that the Office of the Ombudsman warned of possible constitutional problems if the agency proceeds with the purchase after the budget hearings at the Senate, where senators questioned the poll body for using its P3.5-billion savings last year without authorization from Congress.

Being head of a constitutional body, the Comelec chairman can only be removed through impeachment, for which culpable violation of the Constitution is one of the grounds. 

During the budget hearing at the Senate last Monday, Brillantes said the agency is studying the contract whether they will eventually “rescind or proceed later.”   

“We have responded through letter… (after) we have been informed by the Ombudsman two or three weeks ago,” he said.

It was at this point that Senate Minority Leader Alan Cayetano reiterated that the issues raised during budget hearings are vital because these prompt concerned agencies to take appropriate action. 

“Mr. Chair, it should be on record that all issues brought up here are relevant,” said Cayetano, whose probing questions had visibly irked Brillantes.

Last August, the budget panel questioned the Comelec for unilaterally using its P3.5-billion savings for 2012 to purchase a piece of property worth P1,188,865,295.82.

Drilon said the purchase of an expensive property without the approval of Congress is a culpable violation of the Constitution and can lead to prosecution for technical malversation of funds. 

He added that the Comelec admitted having entered a contract with the PRA to purchase the P1.19-billion property, P250 million of which had already been advanced. 

Drilon said the poll body cannot invoke its so-called fiscal autonomy as a constitutional body and use its savings to purchase land and building without securing approval of Congress.

Under the Constitution, the Comelec may, by law, be authorized to augment any item or in the General Appropriations Act (GAA) for the respective offices from savings in other items of the respective appropriations. 

Drilon said the appropriations act clearly states that the Comelec can only use its savings to augment funding for projects that exist in the GAA or which Congress has previously authorized.– With Mayen Jaymalin

BRILLANTES CHAIRMAN SIXTO BRILLANTES JR. COMELEC DRILON GENERAL APPROPRIATIONS ACT LAST AUGUST MR. CHAIR OFFICE OF THE OMBUDSMAN PHILIPPINE RETIREMENT AUTHORITY SENATE MINORITY LEADER ALAN CAYETANO
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