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Senate minority bloc hits rationalization of oversight bodies

Marvin Sy - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - The Senate minority bloc said the rationalization and streamlining of oversight committees would not live up to the objective of instituting reforms and its ultimate result would be a P20-million annual increase in the operational budget of each senator’s office.

In the statement released by the office of Minority Leader Juan Ponce Enrile, the minority bloc said that while they are one with the Senate leadership in pursuing reform initiatives, they disagree with the way it went about the rationalization, which would equalize the budgets of different oversight committees.

During a recent caucus held among all the senators, an agreement was supposedly reached to reduce the number of oversight committees from 35 to around 20, or one committee for each senator, excluding the four leaders of the Senate.

For this year alone, the Senate would save P32.5 million from the reduction in the number of committees.

The minority bloc said the savings represent the difference between the budget for the oversight committees in the amount of P512.532 million for 2013 and P480 million in additional Maintenance and Other Operating Expenditures (MOOE) to be distributed equally among the senators’ offices.

The P480 million was based on the expected P1.667 million in MOOE that each of the 20 senators’ offices would receive every month as a result of the rationalization program for the oversight committees.

“While saving and putting taxpayers’ money to better and more efficient use, we in the minority feel that the move falls short in showing the public that this is the result of some real and honest to goodness soul searching on the part of this institution and its members,” the minority bloc said.

They also expressed reservations with the decision of their administration counterparts, including the arbitrary adjustment downward of the budgets of senators whose committee has more than P20 million and upward for those who have lower levels “regardless of whether a senator chairs one (oversight committee) or none.”

“Designed as such, the move, while it appears equitable as it is an equal increase for each senator, does not address the rationale, if any, for the continued existence and budgetary support for the preponderant oversight committees created by Congress,” the minority bloc senators said.

“If we were to assume that senators uniformly need P20 million annually to carry out his or her committees’ functions, regardless of whether it is for legislative or for oversight, then we must call a spade a spade and tell the people that we are actually increasing our operational budgets by P20 million annually. This is more in keeping and consistent with the principle of transparency,” they added.

Apart from Enrile, other members of the minority bloc are Senators Jinggoy Estrada, Vicente Sotto, Gregorio Honasan II, JV Ejercito and Nancy Binay.

Enrile was Senate president in the 15th Congress, while Estrada and Sotto were the Senate president pro tempore and majority leader, respectively.

Too many committees

The criticisms about the excessive number of oversight committees and their sizable budgets were made when they were in power.

The issues on the huge number of oversight committees and their sizable budgets were cited as a leadership issue by the critics of the Enrile bloc.

To demonstrate their opposition to the ongoing rationalization process, the members of the minority bloc who do not chair any oversight committee have resolved not to accept the additional MOOE and let the same allocation to their offices be made part of the savings of the Senate.

Binay, who chairs the Senate committee on social justice, welfare and rural development, said her committee does not have any oversight function, so there is no reason to allocate any budget for it.

“Usually, oversight committees are attached to main committees. The social justice committee has no oversight function, and it is wrong that I will be given an oversight just to get P20 million,” Binay added.

Study performance of oversight committees

The minority bloc also urged the Senate leaders to study carefully the performance of each oversight committee and use their performance as basis for deciding which ones would be axed as part of the rationalization process.

They pointed out that many of the committees have not been active through the years and this is based on the absence of any real record or report of any of its achievements.

In a sense, the minority bloc said that the move by the Senate leadership actually discriminates against the oversight committees that have been performing.

They also noted that the staff and personnel of performing oversight committees that would be abolished would be victims of the rationalization. – With Christina Mendez

BINAY

BLOC

COMMITTEE

COMMITTEES

EJERCITO AND NANCY BINAY

ENRILE

MILLION

MINORITY

OVERSIGHT

SENATE

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