Groups laud House for stripping some agencies of secret funds
MANILA, Philippines — The decision of the House of Representatives to strip several civilian government agencies of confidential funds for 2024 is a big victory for the Filipino people, progressive groups said on Tuesday.
“The overwhelming public clamor to remove and realign confidential funds has prompted Congress to realign such corruption-prone allocations. This is a huge win for the vast majority of Filipino people calling for transparency and accountability in government spending,” Gabriela party-list Rep. Arlene Brosas said in a statement on Tuesday.
Brosas lauded the House leadership for staying true to their promise to remove the confidential funds of some offices and allocate them instead to agencies protecting and securing the West Philippine Sea (WPS).
Similarly, Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) said that the removal of the funds was a result of the public’s incessant call for transparency and frugal spending.
Listening to ‘calls for accountability’
On Tuesday afternoon, members of the House small committee tasked with resolving individual amendments announced that the following agencies’ requests for confidential funds in the proposed 2024 national budget were removed:
- Office of the Vice President (OVP)
- Department of Education (DepEd)
- Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT)
- Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA)
- Department of Agriculture (DA)
This means both the OVP and the DepEd — two agencies under the helm of Vice President Sara Duterte — would no longer get their proposed P500 million and P150 million in confidential funds, respectively — at least under the House-approved General Appropriations Bill (GAB).
“The removal by the Lower House of confidential funds from the Office of the Vice President, Department of Education, Department of Agriculture, Department of Information and Communications Technology, and Department of Foreign Affairs is the result of widespread clamor against non-transparent and discretionary spending by top officials,” Bayan said in a separate statement.
“It is the result of calls for accountability in the spending of public funds,” the group added.
Do the same to the OP
However, Brosas and Bayan believe that more must be done against the remaining confidential funds in the government, especially those lodged under the Office of the President.
“However, it is not enough that some confidential funds are removed or transferred. The very notion of ‘confidential’ funds must be abolished. Public funds should be itemized in the budget and subject to regular audits. Non-transparent and discretionary funds, those with no clear purpose, are vulnerable to corruption,” Bayan said.
“We call on President [Ferdinand] Marcos Jr. to give up his P4.56 billion confidential and intelligence funds, which is almost half of the total CIF (48.9%). These funds should be redirected to basic social services, especially amid the high prices of food and meager wages,” Brosas added.
Brosas and ACT Teachers party-list Rep. France Castro also vowed to monitor developments in the proposed budget, as changes might still be made in the Senate and during the bicameral conference committee hearings that would follow the Senate’s passage of their national budget bill.
“However, we still have a long way to go. As the Senate deliberates the proposed 2024 National Budget, we will strengthen our call to completely remove all confidential funds and realign it to social services and programs,” Brosas said.
“At any rate, we still have to wait for the bicam committee version because the confidential fund of the five agencies might be restored.”
Where the funds will go
The lawmakers made the remarks, despite the statement of Ako Bicol party-list Rep. Elizaldy Co that the amendments could be considered set in stone because the Senate had agreed to the removal of confidential funds.
According to Marikina 2nd District Rep. Stella Quimbo, senior vice chair of the appropriations committee, at least P194 billion of the P5.768 trillion national budget was moved in institutional amendments — including the P1.23 billion confidential funds.
Some of the confidential funds went to additional funding for the following defense-oriented agencies:
- P300 million for National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (NICA)
- P100 million for the National Security Council (NSC)
- P200 million to the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) for intelligence activities and ammunition
- P381.8 million to the Department of Transportation (DOTr) for airport development and expansion of Pag-asa Island Airport
According to Quimbo, who was tasked by the small committee to speak on their behalf, they believe the House was on the right side of history as next year’s budget should address these three challenges — rising inflation, threats to sovereignty, and a call for accountability.
“So our panel introduced a total of P194 billion in institutional amendments, the main goal was to rationalize the allocation of resources to fight inflation, and invest in human capital, and our country’s future,” Quimbo said.
“We believe that the House of Representatives is on the right side of history. We are responding to the call of the times. And the volatile situation in the West Philippine Sea calls for immediate and decisive action to protect our national sovereignty.”