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MANILA, Philippines – The biggest controversy that Sara Duterte has faced since becoming vice president began with a letter she wrote.
It was August 22, 2022, when she asked Department of Budget and Management (DBM) Secretary Amenah Pangandaman to give the Office of the Vice President (OVP) more funds.
The total amount she said she needed was not a small ask – P403.46 million for various purposes, including a request of P250 million to be used for confidential expenses.
The public already knew weeks ago that Duterte made a formal request for additional funding for the OVP in 2022, but the letter only became public on Tuesday, September 26, after the House plenary debates on the Office of the President’s (OP) proposed 2024 budget.
A copy of the letter was given by the OP to Albay 1st District and Liberal Party president Edcel Lagman, who in turn forwarded it to the media.
Read the letter here.
Here are things to note in the letter.
1. The OVP sought augmentation of the line item on financial assistance, supposedly for the operations of seven OVP satellite offices. Duterte said she needed an additional P144.72 million for the satellite offices, since what it had on hand – P150 million – wasn’t enough.
(DBM released P96.424 million.)
2. The OVP sought augmentation on the line item on special duty allowance (SDA) for the Vice Presidential Security and Protection Group (VPSPG). The OVP under her predecessor Leni Robredo received P5.578 million for the entire year, but Duterte said she needed an additional P8.74 million since the VPSPG had 450 personnel.
(DBM did not grant this request.)
3. The OVP requested 192 additional coterminus and contractual positions, with a budget requirement of P107.46 million. Duterte said these people would help implement projects, particularly on satellite offices, food trucks, a peace-building initiative in Marawi, and the Libreng Sakay program.
(DBM did not grant this request.)
4. Lastly, the OVP sought P250 million in confidential funds, for the “safe implementation of the various projects and activities under the Good Governance program.”
(DBM released P125 million.)
Overall, the DBM, upon the OP’s approval, gave the OVP an additional P221.424 million, more than half of Duterte’s requested P403.46 million.
What happened since
The backlash has been intense.
One of the main issues is the confusion on how Duterte’s OVP suddenly had confidential funds in 2022.
Robredo, Duterte’s predecessor, did not request confidential funds, and when Duterte took the reins in June 2022, she was basically just using the Robredo budget, which Congress approved in 2021.
The release was first identified after the Commission on Audit (COA) reported in July that the OVP had P125 million in confidential expenses in 2022.
The release of the funds was then confirmed through the 2022 Special Allotment Release Order uploaded on the DBM website, but it was unclear when that was uploaded.
The OP and the DBM then said the funds came from the P7-billion contingent fund under the 2022 General Appropriations Act, which is meant to “cover funding requirements of new or urgent activities or projects…that need to be implemented or paid during the year” by national government agencies.
There have been debates on whether the release was constitutional.
Critics said it is not, saying the transaction did not meet the strict guidelines on the transfer of funds.
Former and present lawmakers associated with the opposition asserted that there was no line item on confidential funds in the 2022 budget, which means there was nothing to augment.
To make matters worse, COA disclosed that the P125 million was spent by the OVP within an 11-day period in 2022. That is equivalent to P11.3 million per day, or P473,484 per hour.
It is easy to be lost in the complexity of the scandal, but the bottomline remains this: why did the OVP need millions in confidential funds, and why won’t she make an effort to be more transparent to allay the public’s fears? – Rappler.com