House panel keeps P4.8-B confidential funds intact
The confidential funds sought by various government agencies, including the Office of the President (OP) and the Office of the Vice President (OVP), are untouched in the proposed P5.7-trillion national budget for 2024 approved by the appropriations committee of the House of Representatives, Marikina Rep. Stella Luz Quimbo said on Thursday.
In the panel-approved bill, Quimbo confirmed that the P4.8 billion in confidential funds sought by several government offices were intact, which meant the committee did not make any revisions despite objections from opposition lawmakers.
The only two revisions made in the proposed budget for 2024, at least in the bill approved by the House panel, were the extension of the validity for maintenance and other operating expenses from one and half to two years, and removing a phrase requiring Congress to submit a report to the executive branch “to ensure the independence of Congress as a coequal branch of government,” according to Quimbo.
Quimbo, senior vice chair of the House appropriations panel, said the committee also approved the upcoming schedules for plenary deliberations on the government’s national expenditure program for next year.
The Lower House is set to begin plenary debates on Sept. 19 and “hopefully” approve the budget bill on third reading by Sept. 27, or three days before the lower chamber goes on break, Quimbo noted.
Up for scrutiny
Quimbo also disclosed that the committee-approved appropriations bill retained the provision mandating the Commission on Audit (COA) to publish its annual audit reports, which Ombudsman Samuel Martires earlier suggested to be removed.
For 2024, President Marcos’ office is seeking P2.25 billion in confidential funds and P2.3 billion in intelligence funds. The OVP, under Vice President Sara Duterte, is asking for P500 million in confidential funds.
There are 26 other government offices that requested Congress for confidential funds, including the Department of Education, also headed by Duterte as concurrent education secretary, which is seeking P150 million worth of such funds.
Other offices that requested confidential funds are the departments of environment and natural resources, finance, foreign affairs, information and communications technology, interior and local government, justice, national defense, social welfare and development, and transportation; the Anti-Money Laundering Council; the Anti-Red Tape Authority; the Energy Regulatory Commission; the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency; the Games and Amusements Board; the National Security Council; the peace process office; the Philippine Competition Commission; the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency; the Bangsamoro autonomous region; the COA; the Office of the Ombudsman, and the Commission on Human Rights.
“We express our alarm and dismay that the billions of confidential funds remain intact considering the many red flags that were raised against it, especially with the unauthorized use of confidential funds of the [OVP],” Rep. France Castro of ACT Teachers party list said in a statement.
Castro also raised how “more and more” civilian agencies were now seeking confidential funds, noting that prior to the Duterte and Marcos administrations, there were only P2 billion worth of confidential and intelligence funds combined.
“But when [former President Rodrigo] Duterte came to power and was continued by [President] Marcos, the CIF (confidential and intelligence funds) amounted to more than P10 billion,” she said.
“We hope that we would be given sufficient time to interpellate and thoroughly examine the proposed budget without trying to hide the issues surrounding the people’s money,” Castro added.
In the Senate, opposition Sen. Risa Hontiveros said on Thursday that Vice President Duterte must show respect for her use of public funds, especially confidential funds lodged with her offices.
Responding to Duterte’s statement that she has no respect for her critics, Hontiveros said she was not asking for respect, but for accountability for her use of public funds.
“If you do not know how to respect your fellow government workers, you should at least know how to respect the use of public funds,” she noted. “What I and the Filipino people are asking from you is accountability.”
The senator made the statement in reaction to Duterte’s remarks when asked by the media why she had singled out the senator and Castro for criticizing her use of and request for confidential funds.
“Because I do not respect Ms Castro and Ms Hontiveros. I have no respect for them,” Duterte said on Tuesday in an interview in Davao City.
In response, Hontiveros noted that Duterte tried to shun the issue of what critics considered an illegal use of P125 million as confidential funds in 2022, through a fund transfer from the Office of the President’s contingency funds.
“It has been a week since the hearing we had in the Senate, but you have been hurling tirades instead of explanations,” she said.