Lagman, ex-SC justice Azcuna differ on realignment of CIFs
Realigning to another office the proposed confidential and intelligence funds (CIFs) for the Office of the Vice President (OVP) “runs counter to the plain language of the Constitution,” retired Supreme Court Associate Justice Adolfo Azcuna said on Monday.
Azcuna made this assertion in response to a statement by that Congress can amend certain items in the proposed national budget as long as its total is not exceeded.
Lagman himself was responding to a Facebook post last week by Azcuna saying that the plan to realign the proposed CIFs for the OVP to agencies tasked with safeguarding the West Philippine Sea would violate the 1987 Constitution.
In another post on Monday, Azcuna said: “The Congress may not increase the appropriations recommended by the President for the operation of the government as specified in the budget.”
He said that move would violate two provisions under Article 6, Section 25 of the Constitution.
Section 25(1) states that, “The Congress may not increase the appropriations recommended by the President for the operation of the Government as specified in the budget.”
“No law shall be passed authorizing any transfer of appropriations; however, the President, the President of the Senate, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and the heads of Constitutional Commissions may, by law, be authorized to augment any item in the general appropriations law for their respective offices from savings in other items of their respective appropriations.”
The other provision cited by Azcuna is Section 25(5), which states that, “No law shall be passed authorizing any transfer of appropriations.”
But the same provision states that the President, the Senate President, the House Speaker, the Chief Justice and the heads of constitutional commissions may, by law, be authorized to augment any item in the General Appropriations Act for their respective offices from savings in other items of their respective appropriations.
‘Power of the purse’
In a statement on Monday afternoon, Lagman said Azcuna’s “insistence… that the Congress cannot increase the appropriations made by the President in the National Expenditure Program (NEP) converts the Congress into a rubber stamp of the President.”
He reiterated that the budget submitted by President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. to Congress “is only a proposal which is subject to modification and realignment by the Congress, provided the total amount (ceiling) of the NEP is not exceeded.”
“Otherwise, if the Congress cannot amend, modify, delete, realign, reduce, increase, and reallocate items of expenditure in the NEP as long as the ceiling is not breached, why in the first place did the Constitution vest in the Congress the power of the purse?” Lagman also said.
Azcuna also noted, however, that “Congress too can interpret the Constitution in the process of implementing its provisions and this is called contemporaneous interpretation, which will stand unless reversed by the final arbiter that is the Supreme Court.”
Meanwhile, another lawmaker pointed out that CIFs began to increase in 2017 as government agencies went along with the “fad” of availing themselves of these funds.
“If you look at the historical data, it jump-started in 2017 and increased until now,” Iloilo Rep. Janette Garin said in an interview with ANC’s “Headstart” on Monday.
Former Vice President Leni Robredo, however, had earlier said the OVP had no confidential funds on her watch.
The OVP on the current watch of Vice President Sara Duterte is at the center of the controversy over CIFs. Duterte also heads the Department of Education (DepEd).
Garin noted that she was not referring to the OVP or DepEd in her observation.
“The confidential funds increased by so much, but we are seeing that it is not going to the right agencies who need an increase, if you’re talking about national security,” said Garin, who is a member of the House appropriations panel.
A check of budget documents of the Department of Budget and Management shows that CIF allocations had, indeed, increased steadily since 2017, the first full year in office of then President Rodrigo Duterte.
Confidential funds in 2017 were at P2.062 billion while intelligence funds were at P4.726 billion, for a total of P6.788 billion.
Confidential funds are for an agency’s surveillance-related activities while intelligence funds are for gathering information related to national security.
In 2018, confidential funds were at P2.467 billion and intelligence funds were at P5.613 billion, for a total of P8.08 billion.
The next year, confidential funds were at P2.832 billion, and intelligence funds, at P5.371 billion, for a total of P8.204 billion.
CIFs during pandemic
Confidential funds in 2020 almost doubled to P4.573 billion while intelligence funds had a slight decrease to P5.047 billion—all for a total of P9.621 billion, an increase of about P1.4 billion from the previous year.
The budget passed in 2021, after the first pandemic year of 2020, allotted P4.197 billion to confidential funds and P5.436 billion to intelligence funds for a total of P9.633 billion, a slight increase from 2020.
Confidential funds in 2022 were somewhat reduced to P3.864 billion, while intelligence funds rose to P6.405 billion, for a total of P10.27 billion.
This year, confidential funds have an allocation of P4.804 billion, and intelligence funds, P5.217 billion, for a total of P10.022 billion.
For 2024, the proposed CIFs for 2024 are at P10.14 billion—P4.864 billion in confidential funds and P5.277 billion in intelligence funds. INQ