Senate questions dubious appropriations in OSG’s 2021 budget

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The Office of the Solicitor General’s (OSG) P1.61-billion budget for 2021 was deferred by a Senate committee after the agency failed to clarify some items in its request.

It was Sen. Francis Tolentino who moved for the deferment of the OSG’s budget after the agency failed to explain several issues. This includes the higher allocation they requested for the office’s travel and confidential funds, as well as Solicitor General Jose Calida’s millions-worth of allowances.

“Kasagsagan pa next year ng COVID-19. Saan naman kayo mag-fo-foreign travel?” Tolentino asked.

“Ngayon, malaki pa hinihingi niyo. Hindi ko alam saan kayo magtra-travel,” he said.

The senator also questioned why the Solicitor General’s confidential funds for 2021 “jumped” to P20 million from P5 million, when the agency has no mandate to utilize confidential funds.

“I don’t see paano magkakaroon ng national security, and peace and order budget ang inyong office,” he said.

According to the OSG, they plan to realign the proposed travel budget and other funds to improve its office in an “old” building in Makati, said Assistant Solicitor General Henry Angeles, who represented Calida in the budget hearing.

Calida himself did not make an appearance at the budget hearing, saying his doctor advised him to rest for 5 days.

Tolentino also questioned why Calida has ranked as among the highest paid government officials in recent years, noting that his predecessor’s salary was less than half of the earnings of the current Solicitor General.

“Bakit nangyari ito… Baka nag-increase ang budget ng SolGen (Office), tapos sa kaniya (Calida) lang napupunta?” Tolentino asked.

Angeles explained that the Solicitor General is authorized to receive allowances from “client agencies,” but Tolentino noted that the Commission on Audit (COA) has released a circular that says allowances of government officials should not exceed half of their salaries.

“COA has been asking you not to raise that to more than 50 percent (of his salary), and apparently the SolGen has defied that,” the senator said.

The Senate Committee on Finance moved that the OSG’s budget would not be approved until the it submits all requested documents that would justify its spending on items not included in its mandate.

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