Sara’s secret funds as Davao mayor also draw scrutiny
The Commission on Audit (COA) should thoroughly investigate the P2.697-billion confidential fund allocations for Vice President Sara Duterte when she was mayor of Davao City from 2016 to 2022 and demand the return of the money if the confidential expenses were not justified, a Makabayan lawmaker said on Saturday.
Figures from the COA’s annual audit report during her two terms as Davao mayor immediately prior to her election as Vice President showed that Duterte’s confidential funds ballooned from P114 million in 2016 to P460 million by the time she stepped down to run for the second highest office in the land in 2022.
House Deputy Minority Leader and ACT Teachers Rep. France Castro said P2.697 billion in confidential expenses from 2016 to 2022 would mean an average of P1.235 million spent every day, for six years.
“This is way bigger than even the richest cities in the country like Makati City and Quezon City,” she said.
Makati allocated P240 million yearly in 2021 and 2022. Quezon City spent P100 million in 2021 and P75 million in 2022.
“The COA should thoroughly examine if this fund was indeed used for confidential purposes and in line with Joint Circular 2015-01. If it is proven otherwise, the money should be returned and legal action should be taken,” Castro said on Saturday.
The circular she was referring to was jointly released by the Departmenthts of Budget and Management (DBM), National Defense, Interior and Local Governments, COA and the Governance Commission for Government-Owned and -Controlled Corporations.
It prescribed the guidelines for the use and limitations of confidential and intelligence funds, as well as the mandatory reports on their utilization and liquidation to be submitted to the COA, the President and both chambers of Congress.
Castro noted that Duterte, who is also the education secretary, may have been used to having large confidential funds at her disposal when she was Davao City mayor.
“Perhaps this is why the Vice President is so eager to have a confidential fund in her national office as she may have become accustomed to such a practice during her time as mayor of Davao City,” she said.
Duterte has been criticized and questioned for seeking P500 million in confidential funds for the Office of the Vice President (OVP) and P150 million for the Department of Education (DepEd) because both have no direct defense and security mandates necessitating such expenses.
In comparison, the confidential fund of the Armed Forces of the Philippines amounted to P444 million yearly from 2020 to 2022; for the same respective years, the Philippine National Police got P868 million, P856 million and P806 million. The Philippine Coast Guard, the guardian of the more than 7,100 islands of the archipelago, got a measly P10 million yearly during the same period.
3 Dutertes in a row
Confidential funds are for an agency’s surveillance-related activities while intelligence funds are for gathering information related to national security. Confidential funds may be released upon the approval of the department secretary or head of agency, while the release of intelligence funds need the President’s approval.
The Vice President’s office could not be reached for comment.
A review of the COA’s annual audit reports on the Davao City government from 2016 to 2022 showed that it incurred confidential expenses totaling P2.697 billion under Duterte’s term.
In mid-2016, she succeeded her father, Rodrigo Duterte, who was elected President after he served 21 years as Davao City mayor. She first served as mayor in 2010 to 2013.
She was succeeded as Davao City mayor by her younger brother, Sebastian Duterte.
In the “notes to financial statement” section of the COA’s annual audit reports, confidential expenses were included under “maintenance and other operating expenses.” It did not state the source of the funds.
For 2016, the confidential expenses amounted to P144 million. This grew to P293 million in 2017, which was Duterte’s first full year as Davao City mayor.
The amount soared to P420 million in 2018, and then to P460 million every year from 2019 to 2022.
Last month, Castro sharply criticized Duterte for spending P125 million in confidential funds during the last 19 days of 2022 despite the absence of a line-item funding for the OVP in the national budget for that year.
The P125 million came from the contingent fund with approval from President Marcos.
Last week, the House obtained documents pertaining to Duterte’s request for additional funds for the second half of 2022 through the persistence of opposition congressman and Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman.
One was a copy of a letter from Duterte to the DBM, in which she sought P403.46 million in additional funds in mid-August 2022, including P250 million for confidential expenses.
Another was a copy of the DBM’s special allotment release order that approved only P221.424 million of the original amount which she had requested. The P221.424 million was sourced from the contingent fund and P125 million of this went to the OVP’s confidential expenses for 2022.
In an interview with Radyo 630 on Saturday, Lagman said it would be “very difficult” for Duterte to justify spending P125 million in 11 days or 19 days.
“They said the spending was already programmed. But in a short period of time, it is difficult to implement the spending of P125 million,” Lagman said.
He noted that the other government agencies had a “very low” utilization rate compared the “very fast” rate of the OVP.
“What I can say is, there was an inordinate avarice to use the confidential funds,” Lagman said.
Castro pressed the state auditors to investigate the Davao City government’s confidential expenses during Duterte’s term, and “ensure that public funds are used in accordance with the law.”
“The Filipino people deserve to know how their hard-earned money is being spent. We cannot tolerate any misuse or abuse of public funds, especially large amounts allocated for confidential purposes. We must hold our public officials accountable and ensure that transparency and integrity prevail in our governance,” she added.