Angara: P125-M fund ‘transfer’ to OVP just DBM labeling error
The Department of Budget and Management (DBM) may have committed an error in labeling the release in December last year of P125 million from the contingency fund of the Office of the President (OP) that was later treated as confidential funds by the Office of the Vice President (OVP), senators were told on Wednesday.
During the budget deliberation on the proposed P5.7-trillion 2024 national budget, Sen. Juan Edgardo Angara maintained that the “release” of money to the OVP was not irregular.
“[The DBM officials] are saying it was an error in the use of the term ‘transfer’; it should have been referred to as a ‘release,’” Angara said, responding to questioning by Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel III.
Pimentel raised the issue on the P125 million taken from the contingency fund of the OP as the Senate began discussions on the proposed national budget.
The contingent fund was received by the OVP but was later converted into—and spent as—confidential funds in just 11 days, records showed.
“Was it really a transfer or a release? I want to know because I, too, am confused because official documents on the movement of the funds called it a ‘transfer’—transfer from [the OP] and transfer to the OVP,” he said.
The movement of the P125 million to the OVP is now the subject of a petition filed on Tuesday by a group of legal and economic experts at the Supreme Court, which is being asked to declare it as unconstitutional and to order its return to the state coffers.
Pimentel expressed concern over the government policy that allowed the conversion of contingency funds from the OP for use as confidential funds by other agencies.
He said that by allowing the conversion of the contingency fund into confidential funds, the DBM has altered the auditing treatment of the P125 million.
“The amounts in the contingent fund are COA auditable in the regular process. If that [statement] is true, by releasing it as [confidential funds], did we now allow a fund in the regular COA to [move to] a special COA [audit]?” Pimentel asked.
Pimentel noted that under the proposed national budget for 2024, a total of P13 billion has been earmarked as contingency funds, which, he said, now faces the risk of being converted into confidential funds similar to the 2022 controversy.
“We are trying to look at the budgeting process because we note that while we are closely watching over the CIF (confidential and intelligence funds), here is an item that is even larger at P13 billion which may become convertible,” he pointed out.
“Therefore, theoretically speaking, the entire P13-billion contingent fund is convertible to a confidential and intelligence fund,” Pimentel added.
In response, Angara said that while the premise was true, the DBM would not allow this to happen.
According to Angara, the draft committee report on the 2024 budget contained a total of P9.82 billion in CIF lodged with various agencies, adopting the version of the budget that was approved by the House of Representatives in September.
The amount of CIF was slashed by P290 million from the P10.14 billion originally proposed in the National Expenditure Program, he said.
Call for transparency
This developed as several former government officials and civil society leaders on Wednesday launched a movement called “Wag Kang KuCorrupt” to rally Filipinos in pushing for the abolition of confidential funds being sought by civilian agencies.
They also issued an open letter asking President Marcos, Vice President Duterte and COA Chair Gamaliel Cordoba for a copy of accomplishment reports of the OP and the OVP related to their confidential funds for 2022.
The OP last year had an allocation of P2.25 billion in confidential funds, while the OVP had P125 million transferred from Malacañang’s contingent funds.
During the plenary session for the 2024 national budget, it was revealed that this was spent in only 11 days by the OVP.
“As part of transparency and accountability on the use of public funds, the public should know the activities and accomplishments of the said offices in relation to the use of their confidential funds,” the movement said in their letter.
The movement is led by its conveners, former Commission on Audit Commissioner Rowena Guanzon and former Finance Undersecretary Cielo Magno, who both pointed out in a press conference how the amount of secret funds being sought by civilian government agencies grew further since the beginning of the Duterte administration.
They were joined by lawyer Barry Gutierrez, former spokesperson for the Office of the Vice President.
Guanzon, during the press conference in Quezon City, urged the public to join them in their call to abolish confidential funds for civilian agencies.
“This issue is urgent,” Guanzon said. “What we want is to speak with the public masses, especially the market vendors, to inform them about confidential funds and why it should be abolished.”
“[Government agencies] are not required to disclose information if it’s a matter of national security,” she said, citing her experience as COA commissioner. “They can easily abuse these funds and escape accountability. That’s the problem.”