Scrutiny of OP’s proposed P8.23B budget took just little under 2 hours
MANILA, Philippines — Deliberations by the House committee on appropriations on the proposed budget of the office of President Rodrigo Duterte was noticeably longer than the previous years — this time, the discussion lasted for nearly two hours.
A number of lawmakers — mainly from the lower chamber’s Makabayan bloc — grilled Palace officials over various issues concerning Duterte and the proposed ₱8.238 billion budget of the Office of the President for 2021.
During the budget deliberations, Gabriela Partylist Rep. Arlene Brosas asked Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea regarding Duterte’s grant of absolute pardon to US Marine Lance Corporal Joseph Scott Pemberton, who was earlier convicted for the death of Filipino transgender woman Jennifer Laude.
Medialdea insisted that Duterte’s decision to grant absolute amnesty to Pemberton was within his authority.
Brosas likewise asked Medialdea regarding the termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), to which Medialdea said it should be studied “very carefully.”
ACT Teachers Partylist Rep. France Castro, meanwhile, asked questions regarding the P16 billion proposed budget earmarked by the government for a barangay-based program of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC).
“Lump sum ito. Dati naman nilalagay sa agency, kaya lang ito nasa Office of the President through the NTF-ELCAC. Lump sum ito, pinagbabawal na ito ng Supreme Court decision noon 2014,” Castro said.
Meanwhile, Bayan Muna Rep. Ferdinand Gaite and Kabataan Partylist Rep. Sarah Elago questioned the P4.5 billion proposed confidential and intelligence fund by Duterte’s office.
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 set aside as confidential funds, while another P2.25 billion will go to intelligence funds for a total of P4.5 billion.
But Elago questioned if it is appropriate for the OP to spend this much money on intelligence and confidential funds amid the pandemic.
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.
Other lawmakers also asked questions such as Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate, Abang Lingkod Party-list Rep. Joseph Stephen Paduano, and Albay 1st District Rep. Edcel Lagman.
At the end of the hearing, former appropriations committee chair Isidro Ungab pointed out that the lower chamber, as a “matter of tradition, usually exercise “inter-parliamentary courtesy” and just bring the questions to the plenary.
Ungab then moved at the committee level to approve the budget of the OP, but Bulacan Rep. Jose Antonio Sy-Alvarado said that their discussions have yet to be read on first reading in the plenary.
“Sa kadahilan lamang na hindi pa nababasa sa first reading ang GAB (General Appropriations Bill) para sa taong 2021,” Sy-Alvarado said.
ACT-CIS Partylist Rep. Eric Yap, who chairs the appropriations committee, agreed with Sy-Alvarado and said that the panel can instead terminate the discussions regarding the matter.
Ungab then moved to terminate discussions regarding the OP’s proposed budget after nearly two hours of debates.
In 2019, the proposed budget of the OP was approved in less than six minutes while in 2018, the budget proposal of the highest office in the government was approved by the House’s appropriations committee in less than 10 minutes.
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