Libreng sakay to WPS? Manuel insists OVP projects need no secret funds
MANILA, Philippines — Would the Office of the Vice President (OVP) offer a “libreng sakay” (free ride) to the West Philippine Sea (WPS)?
If not, then minority lawmaker and Kabataan Rep. Raoul Manuel believes the OVP does not need any of its proposed confidential funds (CF) for 2024.
During Wednesday’s plenary debates on the General Appropriations Bill (GAB), Manuel posed the question to the OVP budget sponsor and Davao de Oro 1st District Rep. Maria Carmen Zamora after she maintained that OVP needs its CF allocation.
According to Manuel, OVP’s programs center on livelihood and financial aid, which deviates from the CF priorities mentioned by House leaders earlier.
“Mr. Speaker, nag-iinsist pa rin ang OVP na dapat bigyan po sila. Meron po bang mga libreng sakay na gagawin natin sa West Philippine Sea o sa mga contested na mga isla?” the Kabataan lawmaker asked.
(Mr. Speaker, the OVP is still insisting on having CFS. Are they offering free rides to the West Philippine Sea or contested islands?)
“Hindi po in line sa intent ng House ang proposal ng OVP na manghingi ng confidential fund for 2024. Kasi ang mga binabanggit na programs, medical and burial assistance programs, libreng sakay, ‘Magnegosyo ta ‘Day’ — tingin ko Mr. Speaker wala naman do’ng directly-related sa defense ng West Philippine Sea,” he added.
(The proposal of the OVP for confidential funds is not in line with the intent of the House. Because the programs mentioned — medical and burial assistance programs, libreng sakay, Magnegosyo ta ‘Day — I think, Mr. Speaker, none are directly related to defending WPS.)
In response, Zamora said that confidential expenditures are not limited to the defense and security of the WPS, adding that OVP needs its CF to ensure the effectiveness of its programs and to make inputs on the administration’s crafting of key policies.
“The OVP, in its request and proposal for another confidential fund for the calendar year 2024, is consistent with its reason in requesting the said funds since last year, which aims to use the fund for the safe implementation of its programs and activities,” Zamora said.
“Confidential funds (are) not only used for the West Philippine Sea. It is used for monitoring and surveillance of whatever programs of the OVP, and to make a point, the OVP is not just a spare tire of the President, but is part of the policy-making body of the President and with the desire of the OVP to propose data-driven policies, information from the ground are very vital,” she added.
But Manuel maintained that such a reason does not justify the OVP’s request for a CF.
About the CF allocation priorities set by the House leadership, Manuel referred to a statement from ranking House members who decided to push for the realignment of CF to agencies involved in intelligence gathering, particularly those involved in securing the WPS.
Among the agencies mentioned are the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG), the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (NICA), and the National Security Council (NSC).
This move from the House members came after the China Coast Guard installed a floating barrier southeast of Scarborough Shoal or Bajo de Masinloc last September 22.
Budget deliberations at both chambers of Congress — the House and the Senate — have led to intense discussions about confidential and intelligence funds (CIF), after the Makabayan bloc called out the OVP over its CF allocation in 2022.
Makabayan claimed that OVP could not place any CF as their 2022 budget, crafted during the time of former vice president Leni Robredo, did not have any provision for such funds. The Department of Budget and Management and Marikina 2nd District Rep. Stella Quimbo then clarified that the CF was placed on an existing line item.
As a result, minority solons scrutinized proposals to include CF allocations with several agencies even more. At the Senate, Senator Risa Hontiveros asked how OVP spent its CF in just 11 days when PCG has been dealing with a P117 million CIF over the last 17 years.
Sara Duterte in the past defended the CF in her proposed budget, but she also assured Congress in the past that they can survive without the CFs.