Intelligence funds legacy of martial law – Hontiveros
The prevailing “culture” in the national government of agencies demanding confidential and intelligence funds (CIF) started during the martial law regime of ousted President Ferdinand Marcos Sr., and now being perpetuated by the administration of his son, opposition Sen. Risa Hontiveros said on Monday.
In a television interview, Hontiveros said Congress should now find ways to stop this “embedded” practice of agencies’ desire to have CIF, even if the use of such funds was not part of their mandate.
“Apparently, this practice of having confidential and intelligence funds, even among civilian agencies, dates back to a particular presidential decree, so this is also one of the legacies of martial law, of the dictatorship, that for me we [in Congress] should revisit,” she said.
Hontiveros issued the statement as members of the House of Representatives and the Senate, sitting as a bicameral conference panel, polished the conflicting provisions in the P5.26-trillion General Appropriations Bill for 2023.A thorny issue in the proposed budget has been the grant of up to P9.3 billion in CIF, including P4.5 billion to the office of President Marcos, P530 million for the two offices held by Vice President Sara Duterte and a number of military, police and civilian agencies.
According to Hontiveros, the Philippines stands out in this practice of granting CIF as this is not practiced in other countries, or not at this “magnitude” in proportion to the entire budget.
“The common criticism is that the agencies of government seem to have taken this as a habit, and maybe it’s not a healthy habit that we’ve developed over the decades,” she said.
It would have been healthier and a “step in the right direction,” Hontiveros said, if the Senate agreed to realign and let more of the confidential funds “surface,” starting with the P120 million taken from the Department of Education (DepEd).
“After all, government funds are taxpayers’ funds. To surface more of them in the annual budget to be subjected to regular auditing and subject to examination by ordinary citizens to make more honest brokers of us in government over time,” she said.
Congress should be more transparent and accountable about how it decides to spend public funds, Hontiveros said.
“Auditing will allow us to check on whether the guidelines we set were followed, and the outcomes will be something that we can be proud of,” she said.
Hontiveros defended her move to ask for the realignment of DepEd’s confidential funds and “transplant” these for the agency’s regular funding for its operations.
“For two reasons: first it is not the mandate of the DepEd to use confidential or for that matter, intelligence operations, especially that we are in the middle of an education crisis,” she said.
The DepEd needs more funds for its programs to address the crisis on learning poverty, longstanding learning issues and needed reforms following the shift to K-12 as the country tries to recover from a pandemic and out of an economic recession, she said.
It was an important move, Hontiveros said, to teach the DepEd to be more accountable on how it spends its funds as a deterrent to graft and corruption, given that confidential funds are not subjected to scrutiny by the Commission on Audit.
While the Senate still retained P30 million for the DepEd’s confidential funds, Hontiveros is relieved that the chamber conceded to the proposal of the minority bloc to include a special provision in the budget law to require agencies to draw up a work plan on how agencies spend their CIF, and report on how these were used. INQ