Dispute over Sara’s confidential funds heats up at House
Opposition lawmakers on Friday said Marikina Rep. Stella Luz Quimbo was “engaged in misinformation” when she tried to justify the transfer of presidential funds to the Office of the Vice President (OVP) last year, saying that this was illegal.
Quimbo rejected the accusation by the Makabayan bloc saying the transfer of funds was “expressly allowed” by current budget rules.
She said in an interview with ANC earlier that “everything was legal” in the transfer because the money was sent to an existing budgetary “line item,” in Vice President Sara Duterte’s 2022 budget.
“The line item, which is confidential and intelligence funds, already existed in 2022. But the amount was zero,” she said in the interview.
The dispute between the Marikina lawmaker, who is the senior vice chair of the House appropriations panel, and the Makabayan representatives is over the use of President Marcos’ contingency fund as Duterte’s confidential fund.
A total of P221.424 million was moved from the contingency fund to the OVP, of which P125 million went to Duterte’s confidential fund in December 2022 after she sought the money in August, two months after taking office.
Reacting to Quimbo’s statements in the ANC interview, House Deputy Minority Leader France Castro of ACT Teachers party list, maintained that there was no confidential fund in the OVP’s 2022 budget, so Duterte wasn’t entitled to any confidential fund that year and her use of the P125 million was “unlawful.”
“I was taken aback because it seems that our colleague, with due respect to her, is engaged in misinformation about the confidential fund of the OVP having a line item in the 2022 General Appropriations Act (GAA),” Castro said at a press briefing.
“When we refer to a line item, it means there is an expressly provided budget allocation, there’s an amount. It’s nonexistent if it’s zero,” she said.
But Quimbo stood her ground.“I take strong exception to the accusation of spreading misinformation,” she told the Inquirer when asked to comment on the Makabayan bloc’s statement.
“It is clear,” Quimbo said, “that a transfer from the special purpose funds, such as contingent funds, to an existing budgetary item is expressly allowed, whether the item has zero allocation or not.”
No Leni request
“This is not a new practice. Such has been happening in past administrations, and it is always reported in the National Expenditure Program when it is sent to Congress,” she said.
Confidential fund spending is found under the budgetary category “confidential, intelligence and extraordinary expenses” of an agency’s maintenance and other operating expenses.
A check of the 2022 GAA showed that this category only had one line item in the OVP’s budget—a P620,000 allocation for “extraordinary and miscellaneous expenses.”
The OVP’s 2022 budget was the last to be proposed to Congress by then Vice President Leni Robredo, who did not ask for confidential expenses throughout her six-year term.
Quimbo said she was looking forward to the plenary deliberations on the proposed P5.768-trillion national budget for 2024, which will start on Sept. 18.
“I hope that by then, members of the House have studied the matter sufficiently and have at least read the NEP (National Expenditure Program) carefully,” she said.
The Makabayan bloc and other opposition lawmakers in the House and the Senate are opposed to allocations of confidential and intelligence funds (CIFs) to agencies not directly involved in national defense and security, particularly the OVP and the Department of Education (DepEd) which Duterte also heads.
The dispute may become a constitutional issue as other critics of the transfer of some of the presidential contingency funds for use as the OVP’s confidential fund cite a prohibition under a July 1, 2014 Supreme Court ruling authored by then Associate Justice Lucas Bersamin, the President’s executive secretary.
The decision pertained to the transfer of funds from one agency to another during the administration of the late President Benigno Aquino III.
It voided a provision under the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) allowing “cross-border transfers” of Malacañang’s savings “to augment the appropriations of other offices outside the executive.”
The critics cited the specific ruling that barred the practice of “funding projects, activities and programs that were not covered by any appropriation” in the GAA.
This applied directly to the transfer of the presidential contingency fund to the OVP’s confidential fund which had zero or no allocation.
The Office of the Executive Secretary (OES) said in a statement that Mr. Marcos himself saw the need to release the fund in support of Duterte’s initiative upon the recommendation of the Department of Budget and Management.
The money was released under Special Provision No. 1 covering the 2022 contingent fund, it said.
Under that special provision, the President was authorized to approve releases “to cover funding requirements of new or urgent activities of NGA (national government agencies), among others, that need to be implemented during the year,” the OES said.
According to Duterte, the P221.424 million was for maintenance, operating and other expense items, such as financial assistance or subsidy amounting to P96.424 million, plus the P125 million in confidential funds for newly created satellite offices of the OVP.
Castro said the P125 million was used up in just 19 days—from Dec. 13 to Dec. 31, 2022, or an average spending of almost P7 million a day.