The trips could have bought her an Airbus 319
August 15, 2009
COA Assistant Commissioner Carmela Perez in a Congressional Hearing at August 12 said that the President’s foreign travels cost P332 million in 2003 (from a budget of P72 million), P256 million in 2004 (from P74 million), P325 million in 2005 (from P209 million), P421 million in 2006 (from P261 million), P656 million in 2007 (from P261 million) and P722 million in 2008 (from P244 million).
“There is a pattern here. She is hiding her travel expenses in her contingency funds, like she is preventing the public from seeing [the real picture]. There is a violation against transparency and honesty. It leaves a bad taste in the mouth,” the lawmaker said.
He said the contingency fund was allotted for emergency purposes but Ms Arroyo had been using it exclusively to bankroll her foreign trips.
COA records also showed that the President spent some P1.44 billion on her foreign travels from 2002 to 2007.
The breakdown of the foreign travels is listed as “Traveling Expense-Foreign” under the Office of the President’s Maintenance and Other Operating Expenses (MOOE) and showed how Ms Arroyo’s travel expenses swelled every year:
2003 P72 M P332 M
2004 P74 M P256 M
2005 P209 M P325 M
2006 P261 M P421 M
2007 P261 M P656 M
2008 P244 M P722 M
Total P1.121 B P2.712 B
But for all that, the President is not about to stay put.
Gary Olivar, Ms Arroyo’s spokesperson on economic matters, Friday told reporters that she had not overshot her budget for foreign trips and had “budget room” to go abroad in the 10 remaining months of her term.
“Well, the DBM (Department of Budget and Management) numbers tell us that there’s still budget room for her to continue to travel because she has not exceeded her budget,” Olivar said when asked at a briefing if Ms Arroyo would cut down on trips.
He added: “It all depends on the benefits we’re looking for whenever she travels.”
Quoting the DBM, Olivar said that in 2008, the Office of the President spent some P233.8 million on local and foreign trips out of the P244.6 million allotted in the 2008 national budget.
DBM figures on her trips from 2001 to 2007 were not available.
Olivar argued that if ever the Office of the President exceeded its budget for foreign trips, this was allowed under Section 62 of the General Appropriations Act for 2008.
Section 62 states that agencies may augment any item of expenditure within the MOOE from savings in other MOOE items without DBM approval.
“There’s budget flexibility. Provided she can find savings in other parts of the budget to fund more trips, then that is allowed,” Olivar said.
Besides, no one can put a price tag on the pledges of investments, potential employment for workers and stay of executions of overseas Filipino workers that are gained from such trips, he said.