Senate to fast track revival of oversight panel on intel funds probe
Updated 2:59 a.m., Feb. 6, 2020
MANILA, Philippines — Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri said the upper chamber will fast track the approval of a resolution seeking the revival of a special oversight committee that would investigate how government agencies use their intelligence funds.
Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Zubiri said the revival of the oversight committee will give former senator and now Department of Information and Communications (DICT) Secretary Gregorio Honasan II a venue to answer questions about the agency’s confidential funds.
“We will tackle it the soonest possible time,” Zubiri said referring to the resolution filed by Senate President Vicente Sotto III and Senator Panfilo Lacson proposing to revive a special Senate panel to look into the disbursement of intelligence funds of various government agencies.
“We’ll fast track the approval of the oversight committee so that Senator Lacson and (Senate President) Sotto could take actions on the accusations against Secretary Honasan. He would be given a venue, a chance to answer the accusations against him,” he further said, speaking partly in Filipino.
Sotto and Lacson proposed the revival of the special committee following the resignation of Eliseo Rio Jr. as an undersecretary of the DICT.
Rio had questioned the supposed lack of transparency in the disbursement of hundreds of millions of pesos in confidential funds which were used for intelligence activities, which he said are not under the agency’s mandate.
Rio, meanwhile, pointed out that it was Honasan who had sought the confidential fund for the DICT when he was still a senator.
He also noted that after the former senator assumed his post as DICT chief, he had been left out of key decision-makings which are crucial to his role as undersecretary of operations.
“No one is above the law. We know that we are close with [former] Senator Honasan, but if there’s this such an accusation, what we can do is to fast track the approval of this committee so that he will be given the venue to answer these questions if there was indeed mismanagement or misuse of funds,” Zubiri went on.
Zubiri said he and his colleagues have yet to talk with both Honasan and Rio about the issue.
“We have not talked with former Undersecretary Rio, we’d leave it at that. All we know is what we read in the newspapers,” he said.
“So far, we have not heard the side of Secretary Honasan,” he added.
“A lot of people were surprised. You know, a lot of us believe that he is a man of integrity. [Former] Senator Honasan has always conducted himself with integrity in the Senate that is why we were surprised if there any truth to it or not. That’s why we need to know what happened to the intelligence funds,“ he further said.
Other agencies, too
Zubiri said the committee would look into how other government agencies use their confidential and intelligence funds.
“This committee we are creating is not only for [former] Senator Honasan or the DICT, this also covers other agencies who have confidential funds at intelligence funds,”
This as he described the said funds as one of the “most abused.”
“Being confidential in nature, it’s hard to account this, so it’s often abused,” he said.
“That’s a very abused fund. Very abused fund and you can check with the Commission on Audit. They are the one who really complains, gets frustrated because these funds are not properly used,” he added.
Zubiri also believes some agencies who have intelligence funds do not even need it.
“Even local government units have intelligence funds, other offices of government that I think don’t even need these funds,” he said.
“Of course, you need intel funds for the military, PNP [Philippine National Police], the National Security Agency, they need the funds, obviously. Even the Office of the President because the identities of terrorists often comes from the Office of the President. But there are other agencies who don’t need intelligence and confidential funds, but they get it,” he said.
“It’s by the billions of pesos in each calendar year of our national budget,” he added.
The senator noted the oversight committee would also come up with a remedial legislation to clear out the guidelines of the use of intelligence funds.
Edited by MUF
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