Moral of the sorryBy Conrado Banal
Philippine Daily Inquirer
When, in any dispute involving money, somebody who claims the higher moral ground declares that it is not about the money, immediately we know that, actually, it is all about the money.
The guys here in my barangay have known that fact of life all along, mainly because they deal with different sorts of charlatans every day, from the MMDA traffic enforcers to the usual politicos.
In the Senate, apparently, it is not so.
Now we hear all this noise in media about the release of Senate funds by the 88-year-old JPE, officially termed additional MOOE, or maintenance and other operating expenses.
The recent MOOE release, as it turns out, is meant for the day-to-day running of “offices” of the senators themselves, amounting to P1.6 million each, which comes from “savings” of the Senate budget for 2012.
And they say that Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile is a stingy cheapskate honest-to-goodness GI—as in “genuine Ilokano”—who, being one of the richest men in the government, has deep pockets but rather short arms?
Maybe that was what the noise is all about: JPE does not give away his own money, and he simply allocates the fund in the national budget intended for the Senate.
Well, okay, instead of P1.6 million each, four of the senators reportedly received much less, at only P250,000 each!
So down here in my barangay, we can hardly tell whether all the noise about the MOOE had something to do with the skewed splitting up of the savings. You know, it is all about the money, period!
Yet the noise in media is turning into some grand adventure called moralizing. You know, it is NOT about the money!
Now, “moral grounds” always go hand in hand with “legal grounds” in any public show of disaffection among our beloved public officials.
It so happens that, in the media fracas on the MOOE release, the “legal” argument—that the release is “unconstitutional”—suddenly goes kaput.
One report said that the Commission on Audit, or the once-in-a-while reliable COA, must conduct a thorough audit of the releases of Senate savings by the old man JPE, implying that the COA must not be doing its job.
For how come the COA needs to be reminded—if not ordered—to do the thorough audit, right?
And so COA chair Grace Pulido Tan speaks out in media to say that the release of the MOOE is perfectly legal.
She declares that the release is in accordance with the Constitution, since the General Appropriations Act, known as GAA, which is actually the budget of the national government, authorizes the senate president “to augment any item in the GAA for their respective offices from any savings in other items of their respective appropriations.”
Tan also notes that the same authority goes to the Speaker of the House of Representatives.
It is just that, in the House, hardly any congressman makes any noise in media about the MOOE releases by Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr., even while he uses his discretion on the amounts.
There, according to the COA, the releases are perfectly legal, even if JPE, as senate president, uses his own discretion on the amount that he releases to each senator.
On the other hand, if the MOOE releases in Congress are meant for the operations of the offices of our beloved legislators, how come they talk as if the money suddenly becomes their personal funds?
And so the guys down here in my barangay can only wonder if the COA must audit the recipients of the MOOE instead.
One of the senators, the former military rebel Antonio Trillanes, claims that he gave away the recent MOOE release to victims of typhoons in the provinces. That is it. We hardly hear others talk about how they use the additional funds.
Oh, another senator, former policeman Panfilo Lacson, finds nothing wrong in the additional MOOE release. For one, Lacson does not put the money in his own pocket. Apparently, it all goes to operations of his office.
Lacson, quoted in news reports, also takes a swipe at his colleagues in the Senate for returning the fund to JPE, saying that it is like saying that the release was a personal gift from the old man, which it is not.
Finally, the former policeman who is known to have been a much feared enforcer in his time, notes that the senators have been getting additional MOOE, with JPE already as senate president, for the past four years.
In other words, all of the senators kept quiet about it!
Moreover, while one senator returns the P250,000 release to JPE personally, Lacson wonders why the same senator forgot to return some P600,000 in additional MOOE that was released to all the senators earlier in the year.
Shall we take it down here that the P600,000 release is morally upright, while the P250,000 additional is unconscionable?
Really, the discretionary release of additional funds in the budget of Congress has been going on since the start of legislature in this country almost 70 years ago.
And the leaders of Congress, whether the Senate president or the House speaker, have always been known to use their discretion in the releases of funds to get, shall we say, the “yes” votes of the legislators on some critical bills.
Reports are clear that, during JPE’s time as Senate president, the old man already released additional MOOE of P1 million to each senator in 2008, some P1 million more in 2009, about P1.6 million in 2010, and even P2 million in 2011.
This time, the last release made by JPE, amounting to P1.6 million to most senators, but only P250,000 to a few, suddenly becomes an act of the senate leadership with “chilling effect,” according to the noise in media, and it is about to set a “bad precedent.” Wow!
For some time now reports persist that some faction in the Senate wants to oust the old man JPE as senate president. Thus, the implication from all the noise about the recent MOOE release is that the old man JPE is using his discretion, favoring certain senators over the others, to keep his position.
Perhaps so! But that is how things work in politics.
Another implication is that, all the other senators—particularly those who are given the higher amount of P1.6 million—can actually be bought. Sorry, boss, but all of a sudden, it is entirely a moral issue.
Who said that politics is not a dirty game, anyway? How much do our senators and congressmen spend for elections, anyway? And where do they get the money, anyway? All of them!