26 April 2007
CALLS FOR HONEST SENATE
The senator, who is a Laureate of the Asian Nobel Prize, known as the Magsaysay Award for Public Service, for honesty in the Immigration Commission, stressed that honesty is the most important criterion for senatorial candidates, although she added that there is no easy proof of honesty, except the previous career record and the candidates reputation among his past and present work colleagues.
Santiago was answering a question from TV host Karen Davila on a late night show Tuesday on why senatorial candidates are spending hundreds of millions to gain a seat in the Senate, when a senator’s basic salary is only P35,000.
Santiago said that in addition to the P1.7 million monthly budget, the added financial perks for every senator of some P760,000, consisting of some P560,000 for foreign travel, and P200,000 in annual capital outlay.
She told media that a senator’s monthly budget is released every month to his office, and there is no rule that requires the return of any excess money to the Senate, even if the senator hires very few employees in his staff, or works in the small Senate office for every member, in order to avoid paying rent for a secondary office outside of the Senate building.
The monthly sum of P1.7 million is supposed to cover staff salaries of some P773,000, as well as office expenses of some P998,000.
Office expenses include office rentals, utilities, office supplies, domestic travel, and similar items.
Santiago added that in addition to the office budget, there is a similar monthly budget for every oversight committee which the senator might chair.
She said that the biggest temptation to commit graft is represented by the annual pork barrel fund, which for 2007 will amount to some P200 million.
Santiago said that some senators and representatives reportedly take at least 10 percent kickback from their pork barrel funds as reported to her by building contractors who tried to approach her with similar proposals when she was first elected senator in 1995.
However, in 1995 when Santiago denounced this in a press statement, she recalled that only Sen. Juan Flavier confirmed her statement.
Also at the end of her first year as senator, Santiago returned some P750,000 to the Senate, but a number of senators criticized her because it raised public curiosity about the senators’ monthly budget.
The senator said that last year, she requested the Financial Management Bureau to tell her who are the senators who returned excess money from their monthly budget, and how much they returned, but the office told her that these data are confidential.
In 1996, a broadsheet headlined the story that Santiago was the only senator at that time to refuse a pork barrel, known as Congressional Initiative Allocation, on the ground that in her view it had no constitutional basis.
Appeared in the 26 April 2007 issues of Philippine Daily Inquirer and Manila Bulletin