Houseboy, drivers as consultants? Senate should 'investigate Trillanes'
MANILA, Philippines – The camp of Vice President Jejomar Binay asked the Senate ethics committee on Monday, August 24, to investigate Senator Antonio Trillanes IV for allegedly using millions worth of public funds a month to pay his household employees and donors who financed his senatorial campaign.
“The use of public funds for his personal benefit is clearly unethical, immoral, and a blatant abuse of his office. The taxpayers are paying for his household [expenses] and his personal ‘debt,’” said lawyer Rico Quicho, Binay’s spokesperson for political affairs, in a statement sent to reporters.
According to a report by The Standard, Senate documents show that Trillanes’ office is allocating P1.63 million a month to finance the salaries of 63 consultants, which reportedly includes his houseboy, family drivers, media workers, campaign donors, ex-mutineer friends, and the senator’s brother, Juan Antonio. (READ: Binay camp to Trillanes: Explain ‘overpriced’ consultants)
The amount represents half of his office's monthly budget. Based on the Commission on Audit (COA) report, which cites Senate records, the said figure is way above the P506,262 a month that a senator's office is allowed to spend on consultancy services.
Quicho said Trillanes is violating COA Circular No 85-55-A, which defines unnecessary expenditures as “those not supportive of the implementation of the objectives and mission of the agency relative to the nature of its operation. This would also include incurrence of expenditure not dictated by the demands of good government, and those the utility of which can not be ascertained at a specific time. An expenditure that is not essential or that which can be dispensed with without loss or damage to property is considered unnecessary. The mission and thrusts of the agency incurring the expenditures must be considered in determining in whether or not an expenditure is necessary.”
The same COA circular adds that unnecessary expenditures include those which “could not pass the test of prudence or the diligence of a good father of a family, thereby denoting non-responsiveness to the exigencies of the service.”
"Pati houseboy 'sinama na niya as consultant (He even included his houseboy as a consultant). He should stop his moralizing and pontificating since the more he talks, the more he is exposed as a hypocrite,” said Quicho.
“We are sure he will again blame the opposition for this exposé. But we did not invent the Senate documents. The senator should explain before he complains,” the lawyer added.
Trillanes is a staunch critic of the Vice President and is a member of the Senate blue ribbon subcommittee that has been probing into the corruption allegations against the Binays for a year now.
Salaries for household workers, Magdalo members
The Standard reported that one of Trillanes’ 63 consultants is apparently his houseboy Eddie Ybanez, who was getting P3,500 a month.
The senator’s family drivers, Bernard Allen Marzan and Jay-Ar Caro, were reportedly receiving P11,500 and P8,100 a month, respectively.
The two, together with 14 other consultants, were Trillanes’ former subordinates in the military service who joined him in the 2003 Oakwood and Manila Peninsula mutinies aimed to remove then-President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo from office.
Like Trillanes, they were all imprisoned and dismissed from service, but were eventually granted amnesty by President Benigno Aquino III.
According to The Standard report, Trillanes also hired Robert Fong and Fabian Go as consultants with an P80,000 salary a month.
Commission on Elections records show that Fong and Go donated P500,000 to Trillanes’ senatorial campaign in 2013. For 6 months in 2014, Fong and Go reportedly received P480,000 each from the senator.
The Standard also reported that Juan Antonio Trillanes, the senator’s sibling, received a total of P427,200 from July to December 2014, making him one of the highest paid consultants in the Senate.
Trillanes has defended the hiring of his brother, saying that other senators have relatives as their chiefs-of-staff. “There’s really nothing wrong with that because it’s a position of trust,” he said.
This was backed by Senate President Franklin Drilon, who told members of the media that the hiring of siblings and relatives as consultants in congressional offices is common practice, and is not unusual nor illegal.
Drilon added that the Trillanes may realign his office budget if he deems it necessary.
According to Trillanes, his strength lies in intelligence gathering, which prompts him to optimize the hiring of consultants. Trillanes said they helped him author 17 bills and present witnesses during past Senate investigations.
According to the COA, these consultants’ work could not be ascertained because their services were considered to be “confidential in nature.”
“Hence, the importance or indispensability of hiring consultants could not be determined,” said the COA.
However, Quicho said Drilon should stop defending Trillanes, because “Senate records now show that not all 63 consultants provided or provide confidential services in aid of Trillanes’ work as a legislator which the senator earlier said was the reason he hired the consultants.”
Lack of transparency?
Early this year, COA sent a memorandum to Drilon ordering the Senate to explain the P231.88 milion spent on Senate consultants in 2014.
Supervising auditor Mario Lipano noted in the memo that several senators spent more than the allotted amount for consultants’ fees.
According to the COA memo, consultancy expenses increased because one senator’s office had hired more than 60 consultants, while another senator paid consultants with P94,000 monthly.
The Standard report on Monday said that Trillanes also hired the following as consultants:
- Segundino Orfiano Jr - for P71,200 per month
- Ian Lee Punongbayan - P71,200
- Jayme Torrato - P71,200 per month
- Sherwin Sanusie - for P71,100 per month
- Sonny Madarang - for P71,300 per month
- Newspaper columnist Herman Tiu Laurel - for P23,000 per month
- Former journalist Christopher Cahilig - for P57,500
Orfiano, Punongbayan, and Madarang are also members of Magdalo. Trillanes’ other consultants, meanwhile, receive P40,000 to P60,000.
The Standard also said that Senate documents show that Senator Alan Peter Cayetano, another member of the Senate blue ribbon subpanel investigating the Vice President, paid his consultants as much as P94,000 a month.
Quicho reminded Trillanes and Drilon that it was the current Senate leadership who issued stricter guidelines for senators.
"The COA required the Senate to explain or justify the sudden increase of expenses for consultancy services,” said Quicho.
He added that Trillanes has a “pattern of refusing to be transparent and accountable for his actions."
“This does not speak well for a senator of this country. I do believe a senator who keeps saying a public office is a public trust must not lack in transparency and accountability for his actions. But instead he hides from it,” Quicho said.
He added that Trillanes still has not yet explained how he received the highest allocation in the Disbursement Acceleration Program funds from 2011 to 2012 at P245 million.
Just a ‘hatchet job’
On Monday, Trillanes said, “I categorically deny that I am using Senate funds for my household and personal expenses.”
He said the names mentioned in The Standard report are “legitimate consultants.”
“Some were employed as confidential agents in relation to the ongoing Senate investigation regarding Binay anomalies, while others are doing field research, staff work, and other auxiliary services assigned to them,” he said.
Trillanes said that this consultancy issue had already been cleared by the COA, which has not issued any notice of disallowance regarding the matter.
“In fact, the Senate has already met with COA, and it was concluded that there is nothing illegal with the senators' consultancy services expenses,” he said.
Trillanes believes “this trivial issue” is “basically just a hatchet job” to tarnish his anti-corruption efforts.
“I have been imprisoned for more than 7 years fighting for this advocacy and I'm not about to stop now. Just the same, be assured that not a single centavo of the funds entrusted to my office was pocketed,” he added. – Mara Cepeda/Rappler.com