Palace execs grilled over proposed P4.5B intel, confidential funds for OP
MANILA, Philippines — Lawmakers on Monday quizzed Palace officials over the proposed P4.5 billion intelligence and confidential funds by the Office of the President (OP) for 2021.
During the hybrid hearing of the House committee on appropriations, Kabataan Partylist Rep. Sarah Elago pointed out that the OP’s proposed intelligence and confidential funds for 2021 make up more than 54 percent of the whole budget of the president’s office for next year.
Under the proposed spending plan for next year, the Office of the President has requested P8.23 billion for next year, lower than the P8.25 billion for 2020. Of this figure, P2.25 billion will be allocated for confidential funds while another P2.25 billion will go to intelligence funds for a total of P4.5 billion.
“Natagurian itong ‘black budget’ dahil ito ay nakakatakas sa public scrutiny dahil nga dun sa nature ng funds kaya isa ito sa mga nagiging hadlang pagdating sa transparency at accountability ng mga pondo,” Elago said.
“Black budget” generally refers to “expenditures for highly classified and covert security operations,” and alternately used to refer to intelligence and confidential funds, according to Elago.
Elago asked if it is appropriate for the OP to ask for a “P12.98 million per day” budget for this “black budget” when it can instead be used to purchase personal protective equipment (PPEs), testing kits, and widening the capacity of the country’s public health system amid the pandemic, among others.
In response, Deputy Executive Secretary for Internal Audit Alberto Bernardo cited the recent bombing in Sulu, saying that terrorists continue to take advantage of the havoc caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
“Mas mahalaga nga sa ganitong krisis sapagkat napatunayan natin kahit na mayroong pandemya ng COVID, mayroon pa rin tayong mga bombers na nangyari dito sa Sulu. Maraming nagsasamantala na mga terorista sa kaguluhan dulot ng COVID na magsasamantala para patalsikin ang seguridad ng bansang ito kaya mas nangangailangan tayo ng proteksyon,” Bernado said.
Bernardo added that now that transactions mostly happen electronically due to the pandemic, cybersecurity should also be improved.
“Yung ating cybersecurity space na ating tinatawag ay kinakailangang tugunan natin, lalong higpitan na hindi makakapagsamantala ang mga sindikato doon sa kahinaan ng sistema habang mayroong krisis,” Bernardo said.
“Mas higit na kinakailangan ng ganitong seguridad sa ganitong krisis kaya patuloy natin ginagampanan ang ating mga tungkulin,” he added.
Blacklisting of Chinese firms
Meanwhile, Bayan Muna Rep. Ferdinand Gaite also raised questions over the confidential and intelligence funds when he asked about the United States’ move to blacklist several Chinese individuals and firms for taking part in building artificial islands in disputed waters in the South China Sea.
Gaite asked if Palace officials are aware of this list released by the United States government.
Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea said that he has read it through news reports.
“Alam niyo po nabasa ko na ‘yan sa mga news articles pero officially wala akong nakikitang — what you call confirmation that they were really involved in the construction of Chinese bases,” said Medialdea, adding that they “are not aware of the specific companies as of now.”
Gaite then asked if the Palace is aware that the Chinese companies have likewise been blacklisted by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund due to alleged “fraudulent practices.”
“We are not aware, we have no communication with respect to those information,” Medialdea said.
Gaite said it is alarming that the Office of the President is unaware with the issue, especially that more than half of its budget is allocated for confidential and intelligence funds.
Section 74 of the General Provisions of the National Expenditure Program 2021 defines intelligence funds as those “related to intelligence information gathering activities of uniformed and military personnel, and intelligence practitioners that have direct impact to national security.“
Meanwhile, Section 75 defines confidential funds as those “related to surveillance activities in civilian government agencies that are intended to support the mandate or operations of the agency.”
Senator Panfilo Lacson earlier said that the P4.5 billion intelligence and confidential funds allocated in the proposed budget of the Office of the President for 2021 is “a bit too much.”
“‘Pag sinabi mong P4.5 billion a year under one agency, which is the Office of the President, which is not a big office, how do they spend that? Yun ang tanong,” the senator said in an interview over ABS-CBN News Channel.
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