Groups vow to hold protests while House discusses OVP’s 2024 budget
MANILA, Philippines — Several progressive groups will stage protests outside the House of Representatives on Tuesday, while the Office of the Vice President (OVP) proposed budget for 2024 is being discussed at the plenary.
In a statement on Monday, Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) called out OVP for its supposed ‘holiday spending spree’, after it was revealed at the House session earlier that the said office spent their confidential funds (CF) in 2022 for 11 days only — shorter than the initially reported timespan of 19 days.
According to Bayan, that is an average of P11.3 million per day.
“The P125 million OVP confidential funds were spent in 11 days, during the Christmas holiday week, before the year 2022 ended. That’s an average of P11.3 million per day,” Bayan said in a statement.
“Bayan calls on all patriotic Filipinos to troop to the gates of the Batasang Pambansa on September 26, 10am for the plenary debates on the budgets of the Office of the President and Office of the Vice President where the matter of confidential funds will be tackled,” it added.
Bayan claimed that if the OVP spent the CF for 11 days — between December 13 to December 31, as stated in the special allotment release order (SARO) — it means funds were accessed during the Christmas holidays, one way or another.
“The [SARO] for the OVP confidential expenses was issued by the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) on Dec. 13, 2022,” Bayan noted.
“So if the funds were accessed on or after this date, then the 11-day spending period mentioned by COA would fall on the Christmas holidays. Gumagastos sila kahit Pasko at walang pasok sa gobyerno (They spent funds even if it’s Christmas and workers are on holiday). Truly, the 11 days of Christmas came early for the OVP,” the group added.
Gabriela Rep. Arlene Brosas — the interpellator who asked Marikina 2nd District Rep. Stella Quimbo about the confidential expenses in 2022 — said that OVP had a lot to spend while a lot of Filipino families do not have enough money for basic commodities.
“Meanwhile, poor Filipinos don’t even have enough money to spend for food and other basic needs. Habang patindi ng patindi ang kahirapan sa bansa, tumitindi rin ang patagong paggastos ng pera ng taumbayan (While poverty in the country is worsening, the government spends secret funds even more),” Brosas said.
“For VP Sara (Duterte) to fully utilize P125 million in 11 days, she needs to pay 1,250 informers at P100,000 each for 11 days or P9,090 daily per informer. But despite the public’s outrage over the use of confidential funds, she refuses to explain how her office utilized these funds,” she added.
The admission from Quimbo came during the plenary debates on the Commission on Audit (COA) proposed budget for 2024.Quimbo, who sponsored the COA budget, was asked by Brosas to confirm that OVP spent the CFs from December 13 to 31, 2022.
Brosas was visibly shocked when Quimbo, who was sponsoring the COA budget, said that OVP actually spent the CF in just 11 days.
“Madam Speaker the truth is I was also shocked when I read the news that it seems OVP spent the funds in 19 days and I asked COA and I looked at various reports, but it was not spent in 19 days, but only in 11 days po,” Quimbo told Brosas.
After this, Brosas asked if the CF utilization has been audited already by COA, to which Quimbo answered by saying that the audit is ongoing.
Quimbo said COA will submit the audit report by November 15, 2023.
Discussions at the House have been heated, as Brosas and the Makabayan bloc questioned the presence of CFs in OVP’s 2022 budget. Initially, Makabayan claimed that the CF is illegal since OVP’s original budget for 2022, crafted under former vice president Leni Robredo’s tenure, did not have a provision for such funds.
But Quimbo and the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) maintained that the fund transfer was legal because the CF was placed on an existing line item, under the Good Governance Engagements and Social Services Projects.
DBM meanwhile clarified that OVP’s CF was sourced from contingent funds and not the Office of the President budget, and therefore was not an inter-agency transfer.