House answers Rodrigo Duterte’s rant after OVP lost secret funds
MANILA, Philippines — The House of Representatives has no confidential and intelligence funds (CIF) in its budgets for this year and in 2024 and all appropriations given to the chamber are subject to regular accounting and auditing rules.
House Secretary General Reginald Velasco pointed this out on Wednesday after former President Rodrigo Duterte and a blogger supporting him criticized the CIF allocations Congress had allegedly given itself.
In a statement, Velasco said what the House had were funds for “extraordinary and miscellaneous expenses” — P1.614 billion for 2023 and a proposed P1.259 billion for next year — which are line items subject to audit rules and regulations.
“All line items in our budget are subject to regular accounting and auditing rules and regulations. Our books are always open for the Commission on Audit’s (COA) scrutiny,” Velasco pointed out.
He added that based on the latest COA report released last Oct. 2, “the House has no disallowances, no notice of suspension and no notice of charge.”
“It means that we always pass the COA’s audit,” Velasco said.
The official was reacting to a statement made by Duterte saying he would demand an audit of the House’s funds once Speaker Martin Romualdez runs for President.
In an interview in his “Gikan sa Masa” program on SMNI on Tuesday night, Duterte described Congress as the “most rotten institution” in the country.
He also accused Romualdez of allegedly orchestrating attacks against his daughter, Vice President Sara Duterte, who is also concurrent education secretary and widely perceived as a contender for the presidency in 2028.
The ex-president made the comment hours after his daughter lost P650 million in confidential funds for the Office of the Vice President (OVP) and the Department of Education (DepEd) in their proposed budgets for 2024.
A four-member House committee decided to scrap the confidential funds of the OVP and DepEd and distribute these to government agencies in charge of defending the national sovereignty in the West Philippine Sea in the face of Chinese aggression.
The House secretary general also parried tirades from Sass Rogando Sasot, a blogger and known Duterte supporter, that the House had billions of “dubious” funds at its disposal.
In a series of Facebook posts on Tuesday and Wednesday, Sasot questioned the House and the Senate’s allocations for extraordinary and miscellaneous expenses and other maintenance and operating expenses, as well as its funding for travel expenses.
For 2023, the Senate has an approved funding of P1.8 billion for such miscellaneous and operating expenses and is asking for P1.534 billion for next year.
On the other hand, the House has a P2.066-billion budget for travel, P1.614 billion for extraordinary and miscellaneous expenses, and P2.976 billion for maintenance and operations for 2023.
It is asking for P4.156 billion for these expenditures for next year.
Not easy to have receipts
Velasco maintained that extraordinary and miscellaneous expenses were for cases in which a lawmaker “could not reasonably expect the issuance of a receipt,” including emergency situations such as giving aid for hospitalizations or deaths of constituents and dole-outs during calamities.
He said congressmen certify to incurring these expenses in support of their function as required by the COA.
But an opposition leader, Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, disagreed that extraordinary and miscellaneous expenses could be used for calamity response, citing the limitations set in the 2023 General Appropriations Act.