New petition with SC seeks report on OVP 2022 confidential funds
MANILA, Philippines — Legal experts, former politicians, and law students on Wednesday asked the Supreme Court to order Vice President Sara Duterte, the Senate, the House of Representatives, and the Commission on Audit (COA) to provide them with the report on the expenses and liquidation of the 2022 confidential funds of the Office of the Vice President.
Petitioners were led by retired Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, former Sen. Richard Gordon, former COA Commissioner Heidi Mendoza, and lawyer Howard Calleja, members of UP College of Law Batch 1975, law students, and several priests.
Respondents to the petition are Vice President Sara Duterte, Executive Secretary Lucas Bersamin, Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri, House Speaker Martin Romualdez, Interior Secretary Benjamin Abalos Jr., Governance Commission for GOCCs Chairperson Marius Corpus, and Commission on Audit Chairperson Gamaliel Cordoba.
This is the second petition filed related to confidential funds.
Last week, a group of lawyers led by Barry Gutierrez and Christian Monsod asked the high court to declare the transfer of P125 million in such funds in 2022 to the office of Vice President Sara Duterte unconstitutional.
Violation of the Constitution
The petitioners said the OVP and other government offices and officials could not hide behind a 2015 Joint Circular and Executive Order No. 2 in 2016 to escape public scrutiny on the manner of disbursing confidential funds.
The 2015 joint circular provided that the auditing of confidential funds is left to national agencies and local governments to submit their disbursements of the funds — but not subject to full public disclosure.
On the other hand, the 2016 EO signed by then-President Rodrigo Duterte exempts confidential funds from the requirements of the Freedom of Information (FOI) order.
Petitioners said both circular and EO should be nullified for violating the Constitution.
They said the OVP denied their Oct. 17 request for documents related to the disbursement of CIF funds since 2022, citing the said circular and EO.
“On 31 October 2023, counsel for petitioners received a reply from the Office of the Vice President, stating, among others, that the requested documents are covered by the exceptions to the right to access to information, citing Executive Order No.2, Series of 2016 and Joint Circular No.2015-01,” the petitioners argued.
They said this ran counter to Section 28, Article II of the Constitution, which mandates full public disclosures of all transactions involving public interest, and Section 7, Article III, or the right of the people to information on matters of public concern.
“The present disbursement and implementation of the Confidential and Intelligence Funds runs contrary to transparent and honest governance,” the petitioners said.
“This Honorable Court, in exercising its expanded power of judicial review, must protect the taxes of the people against capricious and whimsical spending of several organs of the state thus, requiring Respondents to disclose to the public the purpose for which the Confidential Funds-which are people’s money-have been spent,” they added.
The petitioners said there was no reason to deny their request because to provide reasonable limitation in the disclosure of public disbursement, there would have to be a related law.
However, at present, they said: “There is no law that exempts full public disclosure of all government transactions that involves taxpayer»s matter.”
“Hence, the general rule of full public disclosure must apply,” they added.
‘Step backward’ in transparency
The petitioners held that the refusal of the respondents to disclose the nature and purpose of the CIF funds to the public is a “step backward” in transparency and good governance.
“It also sows distrust and further widens the division between the public and public offices. The country is being divided because government officials do not live by the principle that a public office is a public trust,” they said.
Duterte welcomes the case filed with the SC saying she hopes that the court’s deliberation would put an end to the controversy.
Opposition lawmakers earlier said Duterte spent P125 million in confidential funds in 2022 even if her office was not given an allocation for such funds under that year’s General Appropriations Act.
They said the amount was spent by Duterte’s office in just 11 days in December 2022.
The controversy generated by the controversial fund led Congress to remove the OVP’s request for P500 million in such funding as well as another P150 million for the Department of Education (DepEd), which Duterte also headed, in the 2024 budget.