Critics now want OP’s P4.5B in secret funds slashed
MANILA, Philippines — Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel III on Wednesday urged his colleagues in Congress to push further the drive against confidential and intelligence funds (CIFs) by slashing the P4.5-billion allocation for the Office of the President (OP) in the proposed national budget for 2024.
Pimentel and other senators welcomed the scrapping of the CIF of various agencies by the House of Representatives in next year’s budget and transferring the funds to agencies directly in charge of national security.
“We also have to reduce the [confidential funds] of the OP and also eliminate the [intelligence] funds of the OP as it is a civilian agency, which is not and should not be engaged in intelligence gathering considering the workload of the OP,” Pimentel pointed out.
According to Pimentel, Congress should also include the CIF of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. as he called on the executive branch to “leave [the sleuthing] to the specialists in the field of intelligence.”
“If the OP is truly busy, then its manpower [or] personnel shouldn’t have time anymore for surveillance work and intel gathering,” he said.
“Unless these people in the OP have too much time on their hands,” Pimentel added.
But with the OP budget already endorsed by the finance committee on Wednesday, Pimentel would have to make his suggestion during the period of amendments, according to Sen. Juan Edgardo Angara.
The P10.7-billion spending plan of the OP, nearly half of which is allocated as Marcos’ CIF, easily sailed through the deliberations of the Senate finance committee.
Angara, who presided over the budget hearing as panel chair, ended the proceedings in just 20 minutes.
“If there are no colleagues [to ask questions], that means they have a vote of confidence in your budget. So we will favorably endorse your budget for plenary consideration,” Angara told Executive Secretary Lucas Bersamin and the other OP senior officials.
Period of amendments
Speaking to reporters later, the senator said it was not uncommon for the Senate finance panel to swiftly conclude its deliberations if no senator would raise questions about the proposed budget of a state agency, citing the case of the Supreme Court and its attached units in the judiciary.
“[Pimentel will] have a chance during the period of amendments as there is a process that we follow: from the committee, [the budget] goes to the plenary then the period of amendments,” he said.
“Nothing prevents the senators from raising new issues or old issues (during the plenary debates),” he said. “Anything is possible during the period of amendments.”
Angara, however, hinted that they were against slashing the president’s CIF.
“He is the president; do we want to cripple him even after he said he needs this amount?” Angara asked.
He said the grounds for the deletion of the confidential fund for the Office of the Vice President (OVP) could not be equated with that of the OP.
“I think the difference with the OP is that such an item already existed in the [2023 General Appropriations Act] and it did not even have an increase, whereas for the OVP, there was none [this year], so that is where the debate started,” he said.
A Commission on Audit (COA) report released last Oct. 9 showed that the OP accounted for the biggest CIF among government offices in 2022, spending all the P4.5 billion it was allocated for such expenses.
Pimentel made the call following reports that the House took out up to P1.2 billion in confidential funds originally lodged with various civilian agencies in the 2024 National Expenditure Program (NEP), the spending plan prepared by the executive branch.
A four-member House panel formed to make the final touches on the 2024 budget deleted the proposed P500-million confidential fund for the OVP; P300 million for the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT), and P150 million for the Department of Education. Other agencies that got their confidential funds scrapped included the Department of Justice; the Office of the Ombudsman; the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Foreign Affairs, and the Bureau of Customs.
Just how much of the confidential funds are left in the P5.768-trillion national budget for 2024?
Documents obtained by the Inquirer showed that the original amount of the proposed confidential funds was P4.86 billion for 28 civilian government agencies.
Less than two weeks after the House’s small committee “rationalized” the use of these funds, the amount went down to P3.72 billion.
On Tuesday, the House appropriations committee chair, Rep. Elizaldy Co, and Marikina City Rep. Stella Luz Quimbo, the panel’s senior vice chair, announced that P1.23 billion in confidential funds were reallocated to government agencies tasked to protect the West Philippine Sea.
Agencies with secret funds
The proposed 2024 national budget initially included allocations of P4.86 billion for confidential funds and P5.27 billion for intelligence funds, or a total of P10.14 billion in so-called “secret” funds.
Documents showed that the P5.27 billion in intelligence funds in the 2024 budget were not touched by the House small committee.
The Office of the President retained its P2.25 billion in confidential funds.
Other government agencies which did not get their confidential funds reduced are:
- Department of Environment and Natural Resources: P13.95 billion
- Office of the Secretary of the Department of Finance: P1 million
- Bureau of Internal Revenue (under the DOF): P10 million
- Office of the Secretary of the Department of the Interior and Local Government: P100.6 million
- Bureau of Immigration (under the Department of Justice): P20 million
- National Bureau of Investigation (under the DOJ): P175.4 million
- Office of the Secretary of the Department of National Defense: P87 million)
- Department of Social Welfare and Development: P18 million
- Maritime Industry Authority (under the Department of Transportation): P600,000
- Office of Transportation Security (under DOTr): P2.29 million
- Games and Amusement Board: P4 million
- Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency: P500 million
- Commission on Audit: P10 million
- Commission on Human Rights: P1 million