Lost transparency: Makabayan raps ‘shielding’ of Sara Duterte from OVP budget queries
MANILA, Philippines — Members of the Makabayan bloc have condemned the House committee on appropriations for allegedly shielding Vice President Sara Duterte from questioning after it decided to terminate the hearing on her office’s proposed P2.3 billion budget for next year.
The House committee on appropriations terminated the hearing some 20 minutes after it opened its hearing on the proposed 2024 Office of Vice President budget, which included a P500 million allocation for confidential and intelligence funds (CIFs), in an apparent show of parliamentary courtesy.
Makabayan lawmakers ACT Teachers party-list Rep. France Castro, Gabriela party-list Rep. Arlene Brosas, and Kabataan Rep. Raoul Manuel rued the panel’s decision to let Duterte leave the briefing room before they could ask her about the OVP’s CIFs in 2022, or even explain why they objected to a motion to terminate budget deliberations.
“Mariin naming kinukundena ‘yong nangyari kanina na hindi man lang nakapag-salita kahit manifestation ang Makabayan bloc, napakahalaga po ng issue na ito, kasi transparency ‘to at accountability ng mga namumuno sa ating bayan,” Brosas said in an ambush interview after the committee hearing.
(We strongly condemn what happened earlier that the Makabayan bloc could not even speak even if it was a manifestation; this issue is very important because it is about transparency and accountability of those who lead our country.)
“At hinuha po namin dito, nagtatago sa saya ng Kongreso itong Vice President para ipaliwanag ‘yong mahalagang-mahalagang punto kaugnay ng P125 million confidential funds, dahil ito po ang partikular na kine-kwestyon namin,” she added.
(Our inference here is that the Vice President is hiding under the skirt of Congress so she could get away from explaining the very important point related to the P125 million confidential funds because this is the particular manifestation that the Makabayan bloc is questioning.)
According to Castro, they were all prepared to present their questions to Duterte but it seemed the OVP was not ready to defend itself.
“So nagtataka kami bakit naging ganito ang naging desisyon at kami ay talagang galit na galit dito sa pangyayaring ito dahil handang-handa kami oh, nandidito ‘yong aming itatanong para maliwanagan ang taumbayan saan ba ginastos itong P125 million na confidential fund na wala naman sa budget ng 2022 GAA (General Appropriations Act),” Castro said.
(So we are wondering why it came to this decision, and we are really angry at what just happened because we are prepared. Our questions are here so that the people will be enlightened about where this P125 million confidential fund, which is not in the budget of 2022 GAA, was spent.)
“Tingin ko hindi ready ang OVP para ipaliwanag sa taumbayan saan niya ginastos itong P125 million na ito. Kailangan niya ito ipaliwanag, hindi ito secret-secret kasi parang tinatago ng OVP. At tingin ko ay naging lenient ang ating mga kasamahan dito sa Kongreso, partikular sa committee on appropriations, sa ganito,” she added.
(I think the OVP is not ready to explain to the people where it spent this P125 million. It needs to explain it. It should not be held as a secret because the OVP seems to be hiding it. And I think our colleagues here in Congress have been lenient, particularly the committee on appropriations, in this.)
It was the son of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., Senior Deputy Majority Leader and Ilocos Norte 1st District Rep. Ferdinand Alexander “Sandro” Marcos, who made a motion to terminate deliberations on the OVP budget, which the House committee on appropriations eventually approved.
Duterte, who is the President’s running mate in the 2022 polls, was present in the hearing for the OVP’s 2024 budget.
Makabayan lawmakers objected to Rep. Marcos’ motion, but they were not allowed by Davao de Oro 1st District Rep. Maria Carmen Zamora to explain their vote as the budget briefing was already terminated. Zamora is the senior vice chairperson of the House committee on appropriations and the presiding officer during Wednesday’s panel hearing.
Castro and Manuel tried to explain their reasons even after the meeting was terminated, but their microphones were cut off.
Reporters tried to get Duterte’s comments on what happened, but security officers whisked her away as she left the briefing room with other OVP officials.
INQUIRER.net also asked OVP staffers for Duterte’s comment, but they have not responded since posting time.
On Tuesday, Castro said they intend to question Duterte and OVP officials regarding the controversial use of confidential funds in 2022. They claimed such a fund was not in the OVP’s 2022 budget.
Castro believes the funds were illegally realigned because the 2022 OVP budget was crafted during the term of former vice president Leni Robredo. In her six-year term, Robredo never requested or included confidential funds in her office budget.
Last August 25, Castro said they are mulling the filing of an impeachment complaint against Vice President Duterte, as they believe that P125 million from the OVP’s 2022 budget was illegally realigned to confidential expenses.
In response, Duterte merely urged Castro to enjoy the thought of her being impeached, stressing that a Commission on Audit investigation would clear her from wrongdoing.