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MANILA, Philippines – The House and the Senate have agreed to reallocate confidential and intelligence funds to agencies fighting for fishermen’s rights, amid rising tensions in the West Philippine Sea.
It is still unclear which agencies the funds would come from, but progressive groups have been calling on lawmakers to realign secret funds that were inserted in the proposed budgets of the offices of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and Vice President Sara Duterte.
Party leaders in the House were the first to make the commitment, in a joint statement on Wednesday, September 27.
The party leaders from Lakas-CMD, National Unity Party (NUP), PDP-Laban, Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC), Nacionalista Party (NP), and Party-List Coalition Foundation said the beneficiaries of the move would be the following:
- Philippine Coast Guard (PCG)
- National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (NICA)
- National Security Council (NSC)
- Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR)
“Recognizing the rising security threats in the West Philippine Sea and the need to secure top officials, these agencies are better positioned to counteract security threats, protect our territorial waters, and secure the rights and access of Filipino fishermen to traditional fishing grounds,” the parties said in a joint statement on Wednesday.
They said the move was triggered by China’s installation of a 300-meter floating barrier in the southeast portion of Bajo de Masinloc (Scarborough Shoal) – a move prohibited Filipino fishermen from fishing in the area.
The PCG has since conducted a “special operation” to remove the barrier.
Some critics have pointed out that the PCG is much more deserving of secret funds than the Duterte-led Office of the Vice President (OVP), among them, Senate Deputy Minority Leader Risa Hontiveros who had questioned the paltry P10-million intelligence fund for the PCG in the proposed 2024 budget.
Kabataan Representative Raoul Manuel, during budget debates, even pointed out this jarring statistic: the PCG received a combined P118 million in CIFs in the past 17 years, while the OVP received and spent P125 million within an 11-day period in 2022 alone.
Signatories of the joint statement are:
- Agusan del Norte 1st District Representative Joboy Aquino (Lakas CMD)
- Surigao del Sur 2nd District Representative Johnny Pimentel (PDP Laban)
- Romblon Representative Eleandro Madrona (NP)
- Camarines Sur 2nd District LRay Villafuerte (NUP)
- Rizal 1st District Representative Jack Duavit (NP)
- BHW Representative Angelica Natasha Co (Party-List Coalition Foundation)
“[We are] still in the process of determination,” Villafuerte told Rappler when asked which agencies would lose its secret funds.
Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri subsequently confirmed that the upper chamber has decided to follow in the House’s footsteps.
“We have agreed in the Senate to do the same,” Zubiri said, responding to a query on whether the chamber would realign CIFs to agencies in charge of surveillance activities amid the recent events in the West Philippine Sea.
“We also will be reallocating funds that we feel are not necessary for the use of certain agencies and allocate them to our intelligence community as well as our Coast Guard and the Armed Forces of the Philippines,” he added.
The Marcos administration is seeking P10.1 billion in secret funds – which are difficult to audit – for 2024, a bulk of which would go to the Office of the President (OP) and OVP.
Based on the proposal, the OP would get nearly half of it or P4.56 billion (P2.25 billion in confidential funds and P2.3 billion in intelligence funds).
The OVP and the Department of Education, both helmed by Duterte, requested P500 million and P150 million, respectively.
The Department of Agriculture – also led by Marcos – wants P50 million in confidential funds for 2024. The agency does not have confidential funds for the current year.
– with reports from Bonz Magsambol/Rappler.com