House urged: Be ‘judicious, frugal’ on intel funds
MANILA, Philippines — Congress should be “very judicious and frugal” in allocating confidential and intelligence funds, which total P9.27 billion in the proposed P5.268-trillion 2023 national budget, and find ways to finance key agencies and programs that got zero allotments for next year.
During his interpellation of the proposed P9.03-billion budget for the Office of the President (OP) on Wednesday, independent Rep. Edcel Lagman of Albay said nearly half of that money, or P4.5 billion, was for confidential and intelligence expenses.
That amount is also equivalent to 48.5 percent of all confidential and intelligence funds for use by various government agencies next year.
Lagman noted that lawmakers “cannot exercise oversight function” or scrutinize the use of such funds.
“I reiterate my appeal for the House of Representatives to be very judicious and frugal in the allocation of confidential and intelligence funds because there are important agencies and programs which need adequate allocations,” he said.
He said the programs that received no money at all included education for special children, sitio electrification, Libreng Sakay, Pantawid Pasada, cancer prevention and treatment and the memorial museum for victims of human rights violations during the martial law regime of the late ousted dictator Ferdinand Marcos.
Others that need more funds are the Commission on Human Rights, reproductive health and family planning and the printing of motor vehicle license plates to fill up the yearslong backlog, he said.
Lagman said the OP was “king” with its P2.25 billion in confidential funds and P2.25 billion in intelligence funds. The total amount is bigger than the proposed budgets for some government agencies next year, he said.
In comparison, only P1.94 billion was allocated for the Civil Service Commission and P833.74 million for the Commission on Human Rights.
Lagman added that the OP’s confidential and intelligence fund was larger than similar allocations for other government agencies that would require such funds to perform their mandates.
The confidential fund for the general headquarters of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, for example, is P1.24 billion. It is P806.02 million for the Philippine National Police, P444 million for the Philippine Army, P500 million for the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency, P175 million for the National Bureau of Investigation and P1 million for the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency.
The proposed budget for the Office of the Vice President amounting to P2.29 billion included P500 million in confidential funds, a huge increase from less than P10 million in previous years.
The OP budget sponsor, Navotas Rep. Toby Tiangco, said the amounts were justified.
“As head of state and government, the President plays a central role in national security management and decision-making primarily in terms of giving broad guidance and impetus to the formulation and implementation of national security policies,” he said.
Kabataan Rep. Raoul Dannie Manuel called for the realignment of the confidential and intelligence funds to “much needed social services.”
He said that the P4.5 billion could be used to fund the salary increase of 460,000 teachers or 368,000 nonteaching personnel. The same amount could be used to repair and rehabilitate 6,800 classrooms or provide 31,200 school seats or hire 9,300 nurses for the schools or provide 700,000 classrooms with improved ventilation based on the latest COVID-19 protocols.
That money could also provide education assistance to an additional 1.6 million beneficiaries of the social welfare department or give P10,000 each to 440,000 recipients of student aid or 74,000 beneficiaries of the Commission on Higher Education’s tertiary education subsidy or 294,000 Tulong-Dunong scholars, Manuel said.
Lagman said the use of intelligence and confidential funds is “untouchable by Congress” and their audit “is behind closed doors and between the auditor and the audited.”
The granting of funds for what state auditors call “confidential and intelligence expenses” has been widely criticized as a source of corruption because the funds by their nature are not subjected to the usual audit by the Commission on Audit (COA).
State auditors note that these secret funds are difficult to examine since they are generally used for surveillance and intelligence-gathering activities related to national security and peace and order.
The release of intelligence funds is subject to the President’s approval. Agencies using these funds are required to submit a quarterly accomplishment report on the use of the funds.
Confidential funds are released upon approval by the secretary of the department concerned. The agency is also required to submit a quarterly report on the use of the funds.
As stated in the guidelines set in a joint Department of Budget and Management and COA circular in 2015, government agencies must present plans on where the funds would be used. Even if specific disbursements were not spelled out, the COA would conduct a post audit of the liquidation of disbursements but only based on what the agencies themselves submit to the state auditors.
—WITH REPORTS FROM JEANNETTE I. ANDRADE AND INQUIRER RESEARCH
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