MANILA, Philippines – Increasing pressure from the Commission on Audit (COA) has prompted the Senate to stop all payments to the office of Sen. Panfilo Lacson.
The COA has ordered the Senate to account for the expenses incurred by the office of Lacson, particularly the period since early January when the senator went into hiding, according to a high ranking Senate official.
The official revealed the senators reached a consensus to stop all payments to Lacson’s office.
The source said the COA was questioning the expenses incurred by the office of Lacson, particularly the disbursements made without the signed authorization of the fugitive lawmaker.
Lacson went into hiding early this year after he was included among the accused in the November 2000 murders of publicist Salvador Dacer and his driver Emmanuel Corbito.
The source said the COA was questioning the certifications for the releases of Lacson’s office, particularly for personnel services and maintenance and other operating expenditures.
“Nobody has been signing these certifications for some time already. The problem is that the Senate would be faced with a big problem because of this,” the source said.
The consensus to stop the release of funds to Lacson’s office was reportedly reached at a caucus during last Wednesday’s session at the Senate.
Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III declined to provide details but revealed he was asked by Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile to call for the caucus for a consensus on the issue.
Sotto said Enrile expressed concerned over the issue, fearing it could become a big problem for the Senate.
It was reported that a memorandum issued by the Senate secretary Emma Lirio-Reyes and signed by Enrile was sent to the office of Lacson suspending release of its budget.
Lacson’s office reportedly receives P2 million a month as its budget while the senator receives P36,000 a month in salary.
The source revealed the office of Lacson would “temporarily not be functioning” starting tomorrow.
The office staff would technically be out of a job during the duration of the suspension but would be absorbed by the office of the Senate secretariat.
The source said this was part of the consensus reached during the caucus.
“It was quite a problem and we had to resolve it because otherwise we would put the Senate President in a spot,” the source said.
The official said Lacson’s office would be reactivated once the fugitive senator returns and reports for duty.
The same official pointed out Lacson’s case is different from that of detained Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV, who has never stepped into the Senate since he was elected in May 2007.
He said Trillanes, though detained, is still allowed to sign all disbursements relating to his office, as against Lacson who is in hiding.
Trillanes is currently detained for his involvement in the 2003 Oakwood Mutiny and the Manila Peninsula siege of 2007.
Lacson, on the other hand, is a fugitive.
Marvin Sy, Philippine Star