Office of the Ombudsman ‘can survive’ without confidential funds – Martires
MANILA, Philipines — The Office of the Ombudsman can let go of the P51.5 million in confidential funds that the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) has set aside for the antigraft agency in the 2024 national budget.
Ombudsman Samuel Martires conveyed such willingness on Wednesday amid mounting questions over the allotment of similar funding for the offices headed by Vice President Sara Duterte, namely the Office of the Vice President and the Department of Education, which both have no functions directly concerning national security or intelligence gathering.
Defending his agency’s budget request of P5 billion at the Senate, Martires said he did not want to see the constitutional body’s integrity tarnished by dipping its hands into the controversial lump-sum allotments.
A reputation to protect
“If it will only taint the reputation of the Ombudsman and its office, I am willing that this be scratched… I think we can survive without confidential funds,” Martires said in response to a question from Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel III.
“I would like to be the first from the investigating agencies to request Congress that… [we will] not have confidential funds during [the rest of] my term of office,” said Martires, whose seven-year term as the country’s chief graft investigator will end in 2025.
Martires, a former Supreme Court associate justice, was appointed by then President Rodrigo Duterte on July 26, 2018, as the successor of Conchita Carpio Morales, who retired on the same day.
AFP agents declined pay
According to Martires, the antigraft body has been a recipient of confidential funds since 2005 which it uses to investigate alleged irregularities in various state agencies. In its expenditure program for 2023, the Ombudsman asked Congress to reduce by P20 million a similar spending item which the DBM initially pegged at P51 million.
Sen. Juan Edgardo Angara, who presided over the budget hearing, asked Martires if his proposed budget cut would affect the capability of his office to carry out its mandate.
In reply, Martires said: “As I have said at the hearing of the House of Representatives, I can always smile at my friends and probably treat them for a cup of coffee [as payment for helping us[.”
He said there were several instances in the past where undercover agents of the Armed Forces of the Philippines refused to receive payment from the Ombudsman after helping the agency in its investigation.
“If you just rely only on your confidential or intelligence funds for you to be able to investigate, you will not be able to function properly,” Martires said.
“The problem with that is that the quality of intelligence that you will receive might just be as cheap as the price of a cup of coffee,” Angara retorted in jest.
Example for others
Pimentel, who has consistently opposed the requests of several civilian state agencies for confidential funds, praised Martires for showing an example for other government offices whose functions have nothing to do with law enforcement and national security.
“The grant of confidential funds to the Ombudsman during the past years has not tainted your office actually. There’s no issue against you,” Pimentel said. “But I like the symbolic act. If it’s now the Ombudsman saying that, then the other agencies will follow suit. That’s my prediction.”
Speaking to reporters after the hearing, Martires said he would formally inform the Senate of his intention to remove the line item for confidential funds in the Ombudsman’s proposed spending plan.
“I will send a letter to the office of Senator Angara regarding that matter,” Martires told the Inquirer. “As I would usually say, if you have extra money, you can have coffee at Starbucks. If you don’t, then just brew your coffee [at home].”