Foreign travels of the past administration under review by OES

The Office of the Executive Secretary (OES) is preparing a detailed report to determine the remaining unliquidated disbursements for foreign and local travels of the past administration.

This was disclosed by Executive Secretary Paquito N. Ochoa Jr. on Wednesday before the budget hearing of the Senate Committee on Finance, during which he was asked about the unliquidated travel advances of former President and now Pamapanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and her delegation.

“Right now, your honor, this is a subject of our examination,” Ochoa told the Senate panel. “We can provide the committee later of the details of these because we have initiated some efforts to dig up the names of persons who joined the foreign travels of the former President.”

Senator Franklin Drilon asked Ochoa about the foreign travels of the previous administration in light of the findings of the Commission on Audit (COA) in 2009, which noted a sizeable amount of disbursements for foreign trips that remained unliquidated.

The senator said, quoting the COA report, actual disbursements for travel expenses amounted to P940.6 million that year, exceeding by P696 million or 284 percent the provision for local and foreign trips of the former president of P244.6 million.

The COA further noted that among the most prominent cash advances under the Arroyo administration amounted to P594 million, which as of December 31, 2009 have not yet been liquidated.

Ochoa told the Senate panel that based on the records of the Office of the President Finance Office, total unliquidated cash advances as of December 31, 2010 amounted to P571 million, out of which P203.90 million had been liquidated as of August 31, 2011.

“We noticed also in this COA report that the bulk of these advances pertained to foreign travels of the former President, your honor,” Ochoa said. Initial figures showed that expenses for local travels only amounted to P30 million.

The Executive Secretary also told the Senate finance committee that the OES is in the process of determining the disbursement officers who were assigned at the time and those who received the cash advances.

At the same time, Ochoa assured that the Aquino administration has put in place stringent requirements for cash advances to ensure that public funds are spent prudently and judiciously.

In the spirit of transparency, Ochoa said, Malacañang discloses to the public the funds set aside for each of President Benigno Aquino III’s foreign trips, as well as the number of official delegates travelling with the Chief Executive.

“As you can see, we’ve been very transparent about the foreign travels of the President. We announce how much we spend whenever the President leaves,” he said.

Ochoa said that President Aquino personally goes over the list of the presidential delegation to ensure that only essential staff joins the overseas trip.

For 2011, the OP has allocated some P224.69 million for travel. The same amount has been earmarked for next year. ###