OVP’s confidential fund sparks heated debate between Quimbo, Castro anew
MANILA, Philippines — Discussions about providing confidential funds to the Office of the Vice President (OVP) in 2022 sparked another heated debate between Marikina 2nd District Representative Stella Quimbo and ACT Teachers Party-list Representative France Castro.
Their argument resulted in the suspension of the session in the House of Representatives on Tuesday.
During the plenary debates on the General Appropriations Bill (GAB) or the proposed 2024 budget, Castro asked whether or not a government office was authorized to fund items even if the items did not receive any allocation for that year.
Quimbo initially agreed with Castro.
Quimbo serves as senior vice chairperson of House committee on appropriations and she was sponsoring the general provisions of GAB.
Castro then shifted to whether or not OVP was entitled to have confidential funds (CF) in the 2022 budget when such a line item was not originally specified.
Both lawmakers have previously expressed different views on this matter.
Quimbo maintained her stand — the OVP can receive CF.
“If there is no funding expressly provided for the budget allocation, okay. And it is not with the GAA (General Appropriations Act), so the utilization of such funds will be considered unauthorized or unlawful obligation or expenditure?” Castro asked in Filipino.
“Tama po (Yes.),” Quimbo replied.
“So, the OVP in 2022, is it entitled to the confidential fund? […] I will repeat my question: Is the OVP entitled to confidential funds?” Castro asked.
“Yes, and I will also repeat. They are entitled. And the reason for that is this: What was used are the contingent funds,” Quimbo responded.
After this, Castro and Quimbo continued their exchange.
Castro told Quimbo that she had not discussed the issue of contingent funds yet, indicating that Quimbo’s answers may have been premature.
However, Quimbo said her reply was her way of saying that the CF allocation in OVP is legal.
Quimbo added what Castro was expressing were just her opinions.
Castrol told Quimbo, “Madam Speaker, I was asking a while ago if they are entitled, okay. So, I don’t need an explanation. Okay, so I was asking Madam Speaker, my question earlier was answerable by yes or no.”
She said, “All I’m asking is if OVP is entitled to confidential funds in the year 2022.”
Quimbo responded, “First of all, one can force her opinion, but one cannot force her facts.”
She recalled, “First, it seems you are looking at the wrong book. The Supreme Court clearly decided that the contingent fund is a line item appropriation, so that means…”
“Madam Speaker, we are not discussing the contingent fund,” Castro cut Quimbo’s remarks.
The tension between the two lawmakers prompted Deputy Speaker and Ilocos Sur 2nd District Representative Kristine Singson-Meehan to intervene.
Meehan was presiding over the session, and she asked Castro to allow Quimbo to finish her answer.
Castro defied Meehan’s directive, saying that the question can be answerable by yes or no.
In reaction, Quimbo said Castro refuses to listen to any explanation.
“Please allow the sponsor to finish her statement,” Singson-Meehan ordered Castro.
“No, because, Madam Speaker, what I was asking is if it was expressly provided for,” Castro interjected.
“I answered, Madam Speaker, that there is. And please allow me to explain why it was expressly provided,” Quimbo requested.
“The problem is she doesn’t want to listen, Madam Speaker. I want to explain this,” Quimbo complained to the presiding officer.
This instance prompted Singson-Meehan to suspend the session.
While the proceeding was on hold, Quimbo was still disputing Castro’s statements.
On the sidelines, she was asking the Deputy Speaker to hear her explanation.
Quimbo said she had allegedly been publicly maligned for explaining the CF allocation.
She did not specify how she was maligned, but in a press briefing last September 8, Castro had accused the Marikina lawmaker of spreading misinformation.
Castro had said Quimbo was lying when the Marikina lawmaker supposedly claimed a line item in OVP’s 2022 budget regarding CFs, therefore legalizing its fund release.
Castro has been calling out the OVP and Vice President Sara Duterte for requesting — and eventually receiving — P125 million worth of confidential funds in 2022.
These funds were allegedly made available even if the OVP’s budget computed under former Vice President Leni Robredo did not contain any such funding.
While Duterte admitted asking for confidential funds in 2022, a recent letter from the Department of Budget and Management to the appropriations chairperson and Ako Bicol party-list Representative Elizaldy Co showed the OP did not transfer funds to OVP.
Rather, it was a fund release.
Budget Secretary Pangandaman, in her letter to Co, confirmed initial statements that the P125 million confidential funds within OVP for 2022 were “sourced from the Contingent Fund under last year’s General Appropriations Act approved by Congress.”
It means the funds were really meant for the OVP to use — and were not sourced from OP — which indicates it was not a fund transfer.