DepEd’s intel fund bigger than that of intel agency
MANILA, Philippines — The government’s top spook agency must be shookt.
At a hearing on Tuesday by the Senate finance committee on the proposed budgets for the Nica and the National Security Council, Sen. Risa Hontiveros made the comparison as she added her voice to those questioning the P150-million additional funding requested by DepEd, which is now also headed by Vice President Sara Duterte.
Such funds are normally used for surveillance activities conducted by the military and the police.
Hontiveros said the department should focus instead on institutional reforms to improve basic education in the country, rather than venture into national security concerns.
“[DepEd’s] budget prioritization is misplaced. Let’s leave intelligence and security to the pros,” Hontiveros said.
“We do not question the legal basis for the provision of confidential funds to civilian agencies like DepEd. But their confidential fund … is higher even than what the state’s intelligence agency [had] asked for,” she added.
The committee, however, already approved on Sept. 29 the P710.6-billion budget for DepEd, including the P150 million.
Intel also for OVP
The panel on Tuesday also approved the intelligence funds for Nica and endorsed for plenary discussion the overall budget of P1.1 billion sought by that agency for other expenditures, including salaries.
Duterte earlier defended her department’s request for intelligence funds, saying it needed the money for the surveillance of criminals targeting schoolchildren.
She had also asked for a separate P500 million — this time as intelligence funds for the Office of the Vice President — an item never allotted to that office during the time of her predecessor, Leni Robredo.
Senate Minority Leader Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III, during the committee’s deliberations on DepEd’s budget on Thursday last week, said it would be better to use the P150 million for the repair of schools damaged by Super Typhoon Karding (international name: Noru).
Hontiveros said that while she would support any program by DepEd to protect students, it would be best for the department to just coordinate with the police.
Otherwise, DepEd would just be duplicating the “existing [functions on] national security, national defense, law enforcement, even [the protection of] women and children [in various] governmental bodies and programs,” the senator said.
‘Serious education crisis’
“National security is not the mandate of DepEd,” Hontiveros said, adding that the department has “no capability or infrastructure to conduct surveillance activities and crime busts.”
She cited other areas under DepEd’s mandate where funding is more urgent, such as ensuring the health and safety of teachers and students amid the COVID-19 pandemic, strengthening its education program for the indigenous peoples and improving overall literacy in the country.
“Let us put funds that would benefit the students. We should empower DepEd to focus on its core mandate of helping teachers and students,” Hontiveros said.
“We are facing a serious education crisis. We will lose our focus if we burden an education agency with national security matters,” she added.
Confidential funds are usually subject to the discretion of the head of the concerned agency.
And precisely because they are confidential or discretionary, the Commission on Audit said these expenditures are “difficult” to examine and would thus need accompanying reports for their proper auditing.
In 2015 the commission issued guidelines on the use of those funds which provide, among other things, that they would not be spent on salaries and allowances, procurement of equipment and other such purposes.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.