Manila media is now abuzz with reports and discussions on the controversy surrounding the Moscow arrest of Gen. Eliseo dela Paz who had in his possession cash exceeding the allowed limit. The big question being: was there indeed an irregularity in the entire incident?
From the point of view of someone who regularly travels on government account, allow me to share the following premises:
Overseas travels by government officials are covered by an Executive Order which defines the allowable expenses based on a standard index. The index takes into account the cost of living in the place of destination, specifically for accommodations (hotel rates) and subsistence (food and on-site travel). The amount indicated in the matrix multiplied by the number of days stay in the area then becomes the basis for the individual cash advances which the officials hand-carry. Actual transportation costs like airfare are paid for in the Philippines, subject to regular bidding rules.
So where does a contingency fund come in? As a general rule, if an expense is already expected or projected, such can be released to the official subject to liquidation. But if they are miniscule miscellaneous expenses, normally, the official initially pays for them with his own funds and then requests for reimbursement later.
Is it therefore normal for the so-called contingency fund to be bigger than the actual cash advances made? Of course not. There is actually no need for such fund in the first place, since all the projected expenses have already been advanced! And do take note that the amount when discovered, was the amount remaining AFTER the conference - meaning much has been spent already. For what? That is the bigger question.
Earlier, Sec. Puno vouched that the controversial funds were indeed intended for contingencies during the trip. He admitted to being aware of its release. Now, he says, it was only the cash advances that he approved. Gen. dela Paz confesses that he took the money, bigger than the one approved by his Boss, only on account of his own signature. That my friends is how easily one can dip his hands into government coffers.
One last thing: when private persons, like the wives, join an official travel, is it truly without cost to government? The answer is no. First, they stay in the hotel rooms paid by the government for their husbands. Second, when government officials visit a foreign post, embassy officials and staff spend government time and funds to host them (dinners, night-outs, tours). And when the husbands are on official business (let's give them the benefit of the doubt), the embassy staff take care of the poor wives, guide them in tours and pamper them. If that is not cost to the government, I can't imagine what is.