Senate OKs intel funds: P500M for OVP, P30M for DepEd
MANILA, Philippines — Vice President Sara Duterte will have P530 million — P30 million of which will be in her concurrent capacity as education secretary — in confidential funds next year after the Senate on Wednesday passed its own version of the P5.3-trillion national spending program.
President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s P4.5 billion in confidential and intelligence funds (CIFs) were left intact as his allies in the so-called supermajority in the chamber blocked Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel III’s last-ditch effort to delete such lump-sum allocations.
“Given the current definition of what confidential fund is, some civilian agencies cannot be justifiable recipients of such funds,” Pimentel argued before the senators voted unanimously to approve the 2023 general appropriations bill during the plenary deliberations.
Sen. Juan Edgardo Angara, who sponsored the national budget, initially wanted to move P100 million of the P150 million in CIFs of the Department of Education (DepEd) to the maintenance and other operating expenses (MOOEs) of the Office of the Vice President (OVP).
Sen. Risa Hontiveros moved to transfer it back to DepEd, which Duterte also heads, but under its MOOE, particularly the Healthy Learners Institution Program. Her motion was accepted by Angara.
Hontiveros further suggested the realignment of the remaining P50-million DepEd confidential fund to support the agency’s learning program.
Angara compromised and said that P20 million would be realigned, leaving the DepEd with a confidential fund of P30 million.
“I’m sure all our education advocates can heave a sigh of relief that at least they retained the P120 million, but no longer in the confidential fund of DepEd,” Hontiveros said.
Angara, chair of the Senate finance committee, said the OVP would be receiving P500 million in confidential funds as originally proposed by Duterte.
He said other state agencies, including the Office of the Solicitor General and the Office of the Ombudsman, would also get their respective share of CIFs.
Before the 24-member chamber approved the expenditure measure on third and final reading, Angara disclosed the changes that his fellow senators introduced in the proposed outlay.
Among these were funds that were funneled to various agricultural programs as proposed by Sen. Imee Marcos, and additional allotments for “ayuda” (dole-outs) in the budget of the Department of Social Welfare and Development as requested by Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri and Majority Leader Joel Villanueva.
Next year’s budget also complied with the constitutional requirement that the education sector should get the biggest budgetary allocation, according to Angara.
“We have also ensured that the government will pull all the stops it can so that every Filipino is given ample opportunity to gain an education or receive proper skills training,” Angara said.
“Funding support shall also be increased for the training programs… This is to ensure that beneficiaries are able to stay employed or have a steady source of income,” he added.
Angara also accepted Hontiveros’ proposal to add a special provision in the budget that required DepEd to submit a “work plan” regarding the use of its confidential funds.
“The DepEd shall submit to both houses of Congress its proposed work plan for the appropriated confidential funds of the agency,” Hontiveros said.
“With the inputs and support of most, if not all, of our colleagues here in the Senate, we have been able to keep this budget aligned with the objectives and agenda outlined in the medium-term fiscal framework,” Angara said.
Question of propriety
Hontiveros reiterated her opposition to her colleagues’ decision to allocate CIFs even in government agencies that were not mandated to conduct security and intelligence operations.
“I would like to put on record my continuing objection to the propriety of lodging confidential funds in agencies not involved in national security,” the senator said. “The propriety, and not just the amount, is important.”
Hontiveros said there were other state agencies involved in surveillance activities, such as those tasked with ending human trafficking, that deserved to get CIFs.
“Let me reiterate that we should leave these dangerous tasks to the professionals. Besides, all public funds should always be subjected to audit,” she stressed.
“We should know where public funds go and if these huge amounts are being spent judiciously,” Hontiveros added.
Pimentel had earlier warned that these funds were “prone to abuse and discretion.”
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