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 in 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?

3 Responses to The perks of being congressman

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naykika

July 30th, 2007 at 3:36 am

Just for comparison, our Federal MPs are bargains (divisoria), even if their salaries and indemnities are converted into Philippines currency.

And here is a few example: for 2007..

Member of the House of Commons Basic Sessional Indemnity $150,800.00
(by constitution there will be at least one session annually)

Prime Minister Salary $150,800.00
Prime Minister Car Allowance $2,122.00
Minister Salary $72,200.00
(Or course the PM and family get the Government House and Government funded travels and house staff)
Speaker of the House of Commons Salary $72,200.00
Speaker of the House of Commons Car Allowance $1,061.00
Speaker of the House of Commons Rent Allowance $3,000.00
Leader of the Opposition in the House of Commons Salary $72,200.00
Leader of the Opposition in the House of Commons Car Allowance $2,122.00
Leader – Other Parties Salary $51,400.0

Travel allowances for Cabinet Ministers are only for official Government business, while the PM may combine both official and pleasure. All other MPs will get a rental allowances during the Sessions for accommodation in the Capital City, Ottawa.

Now, maybe we can stop wondering why Politics is such a wonderful way to make a good living in the Country, even without all the other “extra benefits” that most know why it is worth all the efforts and the struggles and the violence and the disregard of the rule of law just to get elected… Now we Know the Rest of the Story….

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jr_lad

August 2nd, 2007 at 12:42 pm

what a beautiful life.

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bongsua

August 3rd, 2007 at 3:35 am

i don’t mind if they spend all the money that belongs to the people. Anyway they won’t reach the age of 200 and they will die.They can spend everything for all I care. If that would make them happy, go on and after their term their children can takeover. They can stay in the congress and in Philippines while we the rest shall strive to get out of this unlucky country.

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