VP sought additional P403M for remainder of 2022
MANILA, Philippines — A month after assuming her post in mid-2022, Vice President Sara Duterte sought an additional P403.46 million in funding to augment her expenses for the remainder of that year, more than half or P250 million of it in confidential funds.
This came to light during the House plenary’s deliberation on the proposed P10.707-billion budget of the Office of the President (OP) for 2024.
It was the OP, through the Department of Budget and Management (DBM), that gave the House a copy of Duterte’s letter to the DBM asking for more funds for the Office of the Vice President (OVP).
Independent opposition lawmaker and Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman succeeded in getting the OP to provide a copy of the letter to him before the House plenary ended its debate on the OP’s proposed budget.
In a letter dated Aug. 22, 2022, addressed to Budget Secretary Amenah Pangandaman, Duterte asked for the additional funds to “ensure continuous operations of the OVP” for the last four months of that year.
Duterte broke down the request for funds as follows:
• P144.72 million as augmentation of financial assistance or subsidy being given by the OVP’s seven satellite offices. Her reason was that the actual amount needed was P294.72 million, way more than the P150 million allocated in the 2022 budget.
• P8.74 million as augmentation of the special duty allowance for the Vice Presidential Security and Protection Group (VPSPG), which was given only P5.58 million in 2022 to cover a maximum of 95 security personnel, and that with the creation of the VPSPG composed of 450 staff members, it needed P8.74 million for special duty allowances
• P107.46 million for the salaries of an additional 192 coterminous and contractual positions, which were created to man several projects of the OVP
• P250 million in confidential funds for the “safe implementation of the various projects and activities under the Good Governance program and the conduct of official engagements and functional representations in international and domestic events as instructed by the president
Duterte added that the OVP “is committed to formulate programs, projects, and activities relevant to national security and peace and order.”
However, the DBM granted only P221.424 million of Duterte’s P403.46 million request.
In a special allotment release order (Saro) dated Dec. 13, 2022, the DBM approved P125 million for confidential funds and P96.424 million for financial assistance or subsidy.
The money, which Malacañang and the DBM later said came from the P7-billion contingent fund for 2022 and was a legal release of funds, was covered by Saro-BMB-C-22-0012004, which indicated that the OP approved the release on Nov. 28, 2022.
Upon reading the letter, Lagman maintained that the P125-million release from the contingent fund for the OVP’s confidential funds was “flawed.”
“The letter dated Aug. 22, 2022, of the Vice President to the budget secretary requested for the release of funds by augmentation and for confidential funds, both of which are prohibited,” he said.
Lagman stressed that the 1987 Constitution “prohibits the transfer of funds except with respect to constitutional officers like the President relative to savings for augmentation of allocation which are deficient in his office, not in any other office.”
“Consequently, it is unconstitutional for any transfer by one office to another, like the transfer of funds from the OP to the OVP. Transfer from augmentation must be from savings,” Lagman noted.
He cited the admission of House Deputy Majority Leader Rep. Erwin Tulfo, who acted as the sponsor of the OP’s budget, that the amount was charged against the P7-billion contingent fund in the 2022 General Appropriations Act.
Tulfo also revealed that savings from the contingent fund in 2022 were at P53 million.
“It was admitted that in the President’s contingent fund, the savings in 2022 [were] only P53 million, but what was released to the OVP was P125 million. So this was not from savings,” Lagman pointed out.
He added that fund transfers or releases are for augmenting deficiencies in the items of expenditures, but in the case of the OVP’s confidential funds for 2022, “there was nothing to be augmented.”
“The OVP has a zero appropriation for confidential funds in 2022. Zero appropriation cannot be augmented,” Lagman argued.
Tulfo repeatedly maintained throughout the two-and-a-half-hour plenary debates that the P125-million release of funds for the OVP’s confidential fund was “not an augmentation” and that it was an “appropriation” from the contingent fund and not savings.
“This is not an augmentation. In a letter sent by the DBM secretary to appropriations panel chair Rep. Elizaldy Co, it was clear that this fund given to the OVP was not an augmentation or transfer of funds from the OP. Rather it was a release of funds chargeable against the contingent fund upon a finding that the OVP’s request qualified for funding,” he said.
For his part, Kabataan Rep. Raoul Danniel Manuel pointed out that the OVP’s P125-million confidential fund for 2022 was bigger than what the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) has been receiving.
He learned from Tulfo that for 2022, the PCG, which conducts maritime patrols of the country’s waters, including the West Philippine Sea, was given only P10 million for intelligence expenses.
“If they got P10 million per year for the past 11 years, that [amounted to] P110 million. The OVP’s confidential fund for 2022 is still higher, and it was spent in 11 days, compared to the PCG which had that amount for 11 years,” Manuel said.
But a tweet by Commodore Jay Tarriela, PCG spokesperson for the West Philippine Sea, showed that the PCG’s intelligence funds were actually lower than Manuel assumed.
On Tuesday, Tarriela posted a table showing that from 2006 to 2023, the PCG was given P118.725 million in intelligence funds for 17 years — still lower than the OVP’s confidential fund of P125 million for 2022 alone—or equivalent to P6.98 million a year.
Inquirer Research also found data that from 2005 to 2012, confidential funds of the OVP amounted to only P6 million a year.
House Deputy Majority Leader Rep. Janette Garin said the OVP and the Department of Education (DepEd), through lawmakers sponsoring their budgets, would be facing the House plenary instead on Wednesday.
‘Brazen spending spree’
Meanwhile, opposition Sen. Risa Hontiveros on Tuesday slammed Duterte’s “brazen spending spree” in the use of up to P125 million in converted confidential funds in just 11 days in 2022.
In a statement, Hontiveros said the latest revelation should put more pressure on Duterte to explain how she had managed to spend the full amount, which was derived from the questioned transfer of contingent funds from the OP.
“What kind of magic did they use to snuff out P125 million in just 11 days? That is not just a spending spree; it is a betrayal of the people,” she said.
On Tuesday, activists led by Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) mobilized in front of Batasang Pambansa where the budgets of the OP, OVP, and DepEd were to be interpellated.
Among others, they called on legislators to realign the hefty P650 million in confidential funds being sought by the two offices helmed by Duterte — P500 million for the OVP and P125 million for DepEd — to social services and other public goods.