COA eyes talks for updated rules as more gov’t agencies ask for higher secret funds
MANILA, Philippines — The Commission on Audit (COA) plans to meet with various government agencies to tackle updated rules on acquiring, releasing, and auditing confidential and intelligence funds (CIFs) as more government agencies requested bigger secret funds in the 2024 national budget.
During a House committee on appropriations deliberation on the COA’s P13.36 billion budget proposal next year, Kabataan Rep. Raoul Manuel quizzed state auditors about the required documents for the release and scrutiny of CIFs.
Assistant Commissioner Nilda Plaras cited a January 2015 Joint Circular of COA with the Department of Budget and Management, Department of the Interior and Local Government, Governance Commission for GOCCs, and Department of National Defense, as well as other memos crafted in 2020 and 2016, which enumerates rules on releasing and auditing the secret funds
But Manuel noted that the circular and memos now appear outdated.
“Under Joint Memorandum Circular 2015–01 […] and part of the presentation are the priority thrust of COA, that is number one — ‘revisit all existing rules and regulations if still applicable.’ So now, given that there is a quantitative and qualitative change in how the [CIF] is requested and spent, is COA open to amending Joint Circular 2015–01?” Manuel asked COA officials present during the House panel hearing on Thursday.
“Actually, your suggestion is good,” responded COA Chairperson Gamaliel Cordoba.
“Because of the increase in the [CIF], we will try to convene inter-agency with the same agencies po na… inter-agency committee na nag-promulgate ng rules na ‘to (that promulgated the rules) so that we can update this because it has been a long time since the circular was created, that’s 2015 so that’s eight years ago,” he added.
“Within, maybe, within the 3rd quarter of this year, we will call for a meeting with the other stakeholders, and we would try to finish this within the year if there are updates needed, and of course, we will update the appropriations committee and Congress as a whole as to what changes will be made,” Cordoba continued.
Manuel and his colleagues at the Makabayan bloc have called out government agencies for requesting huge CIFs in the 2024 national budget. Under the 2024 National Expenditures Program (NEP) submitted by the Department of Budget and Management to Congress, more than P10.14 billion are allocated to CIFs – with the Office of the President getting the biggest chunk at P4.56 billion.
The Office of the Vice President (OVP) and the Department of Education – concurrently headed by Vice President Sara Duterte – were also criticized recently for requesting a big CIF budget. According to reports, OVP’s proposed CIF for 2024 is P500 million – or one-fifth of its total P2.374 billion proposed budget for next year.
Makabayan lawmaker and ACT Teachers Rep. France Castro has called for transferring OVP’s confidential funds to the Philippine Coast Guard, which is at the forefront of protecting the West Philippine Sea against China’s intrusion.
Manuel also noted that COA’s proposed budget has been a downtrend for the past few years. Under the 2024 NEP, COA proposes a budget of P13.36 billion lower than its 2022 and 2023 approved budgets of P15.26 billion and P14.20 billion, including continuing appropriations and budgetary adjustments.
“Here, about the overall budget of COA, we observed that for 2022, P14 billion; 2023, P13.5 billion; and then for 2024, P13.36 billion. So, there seems to be a downward trend since 2022. This is despite the fact na (that) for 2024, we have a 9.5 percent increase in our proposed budget so [that] the pie would get bigger, but COA will have less,” the party-list congressman pointed out.
“Also, there is a downward trend even if the CIF that we should look into has increased,” he added.
Manuel asserted that COA needs a bigger budget so it would be able to properly scrutinize the spending of government agencies and assess the performance of government-attached agencies like the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict.
“So on our part, for the youth, we would really support an increase in the budget of COA given that they have many agencies and items in the national budget to audit, and we also look forward to complete the five-year assessment of NTF-ELCAC regarding their fund spending,” he said. With reports from Juan Miguel Talens, trainee