The perks of being a congressman

DAYS before the 14th Congress opened, Budget Secretary Rolando Andaya Jr. had humored the neophyte members of the House of Representatives
about the enviable perks enjoyed by lawmakers. The former representative of Camarines Sur who once chaired the powerful House appropriations committee was invited to orient the first-term
legislators on the budgeting process.

During his talk, he remarked how wonderful it is to be a
congressman: ‘You have flexible time. Pwede kang pumasok, pwedeng hindi (You may or may not go to work) yet still get your salary.’

Then, he warned them not to make the mistake of paying for meals
and drinks at the Batasan Pambansa’s South Lounge as it is their privilege to be served free food.

Andaya may have meant everything as a joke, only that speaking
of the privileges that legislators enjoy in such manner was hardly
amusing, especially given a quorum-challenged legislature that has been passing fewer and fewer laws each year despite the ever increasing budgetary allocation to lawmaking. When the 13th Congress
formally closed last June 30, it managed to pass only 148 laws , setting a new record-low in the history of the Philippine legislature. That is no laughing matter.

Yet apparently, the mention of perks was the very cue Jose de
Venecia Jr. had also waited for. When came his turn to give the freshman legislators a briefing, the just elected House Speaker announced even more entitlements for members of the Lower House, in particular, an annual P1-million foreign travel allotment, and allocations for additional staff and maintenance of their respective
district offices. There’s even a new building in the works to house new offices for the congressmen.

What the public commonly knows is that his or her district
representative gets a monthly salary of P35,000, plus, of course, yearly pork-barrel allocations amounting to P70 million — P20 million in Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) and P50 million as congressional allocation for public works projects.

What is seldom known are the amounts corresponding to their other entitlements, apart from salary and pork barrel. As gleaned from the
Commission on Audit’s annual published itemized lists, these include
expenses for district staff allocation, contractual consultants,
research, consultative local travel, communication, and supplies.

There are also allocations for a public affairs fund, central office staff, equipment/furniture and fixtures, and other maintenance and operating expenses (MOE).

COSTLY CONGRESSMEN

What the Public Spent for the Upkeep of Each Member of the House of Representatives for the year, 2005

EXPENSE ITEMS*
AMOUNT

Basic Salary
420,000.00

Foreign Travel
220,867.70

District Staff Allocation
650,000.04

Contractual Consultants
120,000.00

Research
396,000.00

Consultative Local Travel
788,763.71

Communication
129,600.00

Supplies
120,000.00

Public Affairs Fund
308,400.00

Central Office Staff
1,982,033.58

Equipment/Furniture and Fixtures
21,537.84

Other MOE
600,000.00

Source: Commission on Audit

*Figures for Foreign Travel, Consultative Local Travel, Central
Office Staff and Equipment/Furniture and Fixtures are average amounts. The rest are uniform for all congressmen.

The COA lists are not at all comprehensive and do not even include expenses of legislators as committee members and officers which,
in 2005, amounted to over P92 million. In 2004, the House spent about P77 million on these expenses.

Data from the PCIJ book, The Rulemakers, show that the annual
upkeep of each congressman had almost doubled from P2.83 million in 1994 to P5.16 million in 2002. Latest data culled from the published expenses of the 13th House point to a continuing trend, with the annual upkeep pegged at P5.7 million each congressman in 2005, or P480, 880.36 a month — the highest to date.

COSTLY CONGRESSMEN – 2
Annual and Monthly Upkeep of Each Member of the House of Representatives

YEAR
ANNUAL UPKEEP
MONTHLY UPKEEP

1994
2,830,608.48
235,884.04

1995
2,588,929.44
215,744.12

1996
3,235,886.71
269,657.23

1997
3,496,225.83
291,352.15

1998
2,827,975.56
235,664.63

1999
4,537,482.57
378,123.55

2000
4,562,446.31
380,203.86

2001
3,917,321.63
326,443.47

2002
5,155,221.54
429,601.79

2004
4,112,520.42
342,710.04

2005
5,770,564.32
480,880.36

Source: Commission on Audit

While there has not been any increase in their basic salary since 1999, and most of the other entitlements have remained at their
2001 levels, each House member’s district staff allocation has been increased to P650,000 annually. MOE also ballooned to P600,000 in 2005 from the previous year’s P411,000. Meanwhile, expenses on consultative local travel and central office staff were at their
highest in the same year at over P788,000 and close to P2 million, respectively, per congressman.

Foreign travel expenses in 2005 also was double the 2004 amount
at an average of P221,000 each House member. The total bill paid for by the government for the overseas trips of 170 congressmen was P59,413,412. 82.

COSTLY CONGRESSMEN – 3
Annual Average Amounts Paid to Foreign
Travel of Members of the House of Representatives

YEAR
AMOUNT

1994
98,444.80

1995
89,948.98

1996
187,176.33

1997
184,458.69

1998
156,475.83

1999
372,988.06

2000
432,950.16

2001
254,395.86

2002
316,201.67

2004
110,129.44

2005
220,867.70

Source: Commission on Audit

THE HOUSE JETSET*
Top 10 Spenders on Foreign Travel
Among Members of the House of Representatives in 2005

CONGRESSMAN
EXPENSES

Antonio Cuenco
1,294,058.05

Roque Ablan Jr.
1,014,006.90

Monico Puentevella
960,789.66

Emilio Espinosa Jr.
806,904.43

Ernesto Nieva
795,350.89

Juan Miguel Zubiri
787,582.99

Abdullah Dimaporo
777,886.88

Hermilando Mandanas
741,172.72

Arnulfo Fuentebella
733,777.65

Reylina Nicolas
731,196.5

Source: Commission on Audit

* List does not declare the foreign travel expenses of House
Speaker Jose de Venecia.

Because maintenance, operating, and other expenses of House members are consolidated with their basic salary in the payroll and
classified as ‘outright expenses,’ these are no longer subject to
liquidation, which means that congressmen do not have to account for
these funds.

What’s more, as reported in The Rulemakers:

They are not expected to submit a payroll of their district
staff or report their function, salaries and withholding taxes. No one
starts asking if they do not produce a report on the research their offices should supposedly undertake. There is no demand for them to produce the list of consultants they have hired, as well as the contracts they draw up for those whose services they need. As fas
as the current (lack of) rules go, how the legislators spend their public affairs fund is their business and business alone.

The generous perks do not end there.

The House Speaker is himself a source of funds with a vast discretionary largesse at his disposal. From this are mostly drawn
the representatives’ monthly allowances (which can range from P50,000 to P100,000), Christmas bonuses (P100,000 to 200,000), as well as the ‘payoffs’ for votes during speakership contests and ‘appearance fees’ (P50,000 as minimum)for attending plenary sessions to vote on crucial national bills.

Under de Venecia, who has won an unprecedented fifth term as Speaker, the 14th House is not likely to veer away from the usual practice.

Isn’t it high time that the public demanded greater financial
accountability from their representatives?

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Thanks to Eminga for the forward.

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