Trillanes questions Duterte's P2-B confidential, intel funds for 2017
MANILA, Philippines – If the intelligence and confidential funds under the proposed 2017 budget of the Office of the President are for the Duterte administration’s anti-drugs and peace and order efforts, why not allocate these directly under intelligence and law enforcement agencies instead?
This was the last minute intervention of Senator Antonio Trillanes IV during the Senate hearing on the 2017 proposed budget of the office of President Rodrigo Duterte on Tuesday, October 4.
Trillanes was almost unable to make his manifestation since Senator Loren Legarda, chair of the Senate committee on finance, had already ended the hearing after around just 10 minutes.
WATCH: Senator Trillanes asks ES Medialdea to justify P2B increase in confi, intel funds under Office of the Pres pic.twitter.com/HXDCcok7Fz— Pia Ranada (@piaranada) October 4, 2016
After the short presentation of Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea and Undersecretary Des Justol, Legarda clarified that the bulk of the OP funds would be used for the Philippines’ hosting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit.
She then said she would not ask any questions on the confidential and intelligence funds given their sensitive nature. After this, she ended the hearing. (READ: EXPLAINER: Office of the President's confidential, intel funds)
She, however, huddled with Medialdea and other Malacañang staff, to ask about these funds specifically.
In a few minutes, Trillanes walked into the room, interrupted the huddle and asked if he could make a manifestation. He could be heard saying he thought the hearing was to start at 1:30 pm. Legarda began the hearing a few minutes after 1 pm.
Upon Trillanes’ request, Legarda resumed the hearing at which point Trillanes proceeded with his manifestation.
“In light of the increase by P2 billion, I’m concerned with the absorptive capacity of the Office of the President per se to handle such a huge amount because, comparatively, the other intelligence units within the government have very small intelligence funds,” said Trillanes.
Other agencies more 'suited'
Medialdea explained that the funds would be used mostly for intelligence gathering to support Duterte’s anti-drug campaign and fight against security threats, especially during the Philippine hosting of the ASEAN Summit in January 2017 to be attended by ASEAN leaders and their dialogue partners, and other foreign dignitaries.
But Trillanes said other agencies would be better equipped to spend such funds.
“If the primary advocacy is the war on illegal drugs, then we can realign it or transfer it to the PDEA (Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency) which is very much suited to the war against drugs,” said the senator, among the most outspoken critics of Duterte in Congress.
Unless Medialdea is able to justify the allocation of such funds to the OP, Trillanes would recommend that the requested intelligence and confidential funds be taken out of Duterte’s budget and allocated elsewhere – in agencies like the Philippine National Police, National Bureau of Investigation, and Armed Forces.
“At the appropriate time, I will be making amendments if the Office of the President won’t be able to justify such an increase and assure that it will be transferred to the appropriate agencies that will be in tune with the advocacies of the President,” said Trillanes.
The soldier-turned-lawmaker made it clear, however, that he was not out to be an "obstructionist” and merely wanted to help strengthen the “checks and balance” between the Executive and Legislative when approving the national budget.
OP Undersecretary Justol responded to Trillanes’ concerns by pointing out that under a Joint Memorandum Circular, the OP will eventually be giving the funds to the agencies mentioned by Trillanes.
But she said it’s important that Duterte has “control” over these funds.
“Eventually, by the budget itself, it will be realigned to the different departments but it should be under the Office of the President for his control,” said Justol.
The disbursement of such funds would follow the processes outlined in a Joint Memorandum Circular, signed by the Department of Budget and Management, Commission on Audit, Department of National Defense, and Department of the Interior and Local Government.
The circular outlines how confidential and intelligence funds are to be used, given their sensitive nature.
Trillanes, however, argued that it would be better to allocate the funds directly to these agencies instead of through the OP.
“Instead of realigning later on, why not we make these amendments to the proposed budget right now?” he said.
Justol mentioned there are security agencies directly under the OP, including the Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Task Force (PAOCTF), Philippine Center for Transnational Crime, and National Coast Watch Council.
Legarda ended the hearing by approving the proposed OP budget “pending their submission of the breakdown of the P2 billion” intel and confidential funds.
She asked Medialdea to submit the work and financial plan for these funds to the finance committee and to Trillanes.
Trillanes quickly added that this should be “with the understanding that this is conditional, that if such submissions won’t be satisfactory then we may make or propose amendments at the proper time.”
Interviewed by media after the hearing, Medialdea said Trillanes’ inputs were “fair” and that his office will submit the work and financial plan.
He could not say, however, how much of the intelligence and confidential funds would go to ensuring ASEAN Summit security, anti-drug efforts, or anti-terrorism efforts.
Duterte himself has defended his request for more confidential and intel funds, saying he needs this for his "fight on many fronts."
The proposed 2017 budget of the OP is P19.99 billion, a 607% increase from the 2016 budget of P2.82 billion.
Of this, P15.46 billion is intended to cover “expenses during leaders’ summits, ministerial and senior officials’ meetings, as well as commemorative activities for the 50th Founding Anniversary of ASEAN in 2017.” (READ: Bulk of P15-B ASEAN budget of President's office for car rentals)
The P2-billion increase is to cover “increased requirements for intelligence information gathering and other surveillance activities.”
Medialdea’s presentation did not detail how the P15.46 billion ASEAN Summit would be used. – Rappler.com