MANILA, Philippines – Senate Deputy Minority Leader Risa Hontiveros has asked the Department of Education (DepEd) to consider voluntarily realigning its proposed P150-million confidential fund for 2023 to the indigenous peoples’ (IP) education program.
Hontiveros made the pitch during Senate deliberations on the DepEd budget on Thursday, September 29, attended by Vice President and DepEd Secretary Sara Duterte.
The opposition senator asked Duterte if she would voluntary realign the DepEd’s confidential funds to augment the budget cuts in other programs of her department, specifically the budget for IP education which is only P53.4 million in 2023, down from P144.3 million in 2022.
The Vice President said that with regards to budget cuts in DepEd programs, the department “can work out realignments in our budget so that we can fund programs, activities, and budget that need for funding.”
“Regarding confidential funds, this is a proposal that we submitted to the Congress. And as I said earlier, we submit to the wisdom of the Congress with regards to the amount and to the proprietary matter on decision on confidential funds,” Duterte also said.
During the budget Senate budget deliberations on the proposed 2023 OVP budget also on Thursday, Senate Minority Leader Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III asked the Vice President to justify the P500 million confidential fund sought by the OVP.
Duterte didn’t answer Pimentel’s question directly, but said that former vice presidents also sought for confidential funds. She then reiterated her office’s answer to lawmakers during the budget plenary at the HOR last week, saying that she would leave the decision to the Congress to decide on the fate of her confidential funds.
“As to the amounts and the propriety of the confidential funds, as we have manifested in the House of Representatives, we leave it to the honorable members of the Senate to decide on this matter, your honor,” Duterte said.
Both the House and the Senate are dominated by allies of the Marcos administration.
Duterte assured Congress and the public that the confidential funds will be used in accordance with the law.
During the budget deliberations for the OVP budget, Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri appealed to other senators to extend courtesy to the OVP and swiftly approve the budget of the office. It was only Pimentel who interpellated Duterte.
Zubiri said that the same courtesy was also given to past vice presidents, including former vice president Leni Robredo.
The same courtesy was also extended to Duterte during the budget deliberations at HOR on September 14.
The Senate committee on finance has approved the proposed P710-billion budget of the DepEd and the P2.92-billion budget of the OVP. The budgets are now up for Senate plenary debates.
Higher than intel agency’s budget
In a statement on Tuesday, October 4, Hontiveros said the proposed P150-million confidential fund of the DepEd is bigger than the P141.2 million being proposed by the National Intelligence Coordination Agency.
“We do not question the legal basis for the provision of confidential funds to civilian agencies like DepEd. But their confidential fund, which they say is supposed to go to surveillance activities for the security of students and teachers, is higher even than what the State’s intelligence agency asked for. The budget prioritization is misplaced. Let’s leave intelligence and security to the pros,” she said.
The senator urged the DepEd to focus on educational reforms, instead of national security.
“Instead of compromising on educational programs and reforms, let’s realign funds to meet those needs… We should empower DepEd to focus on its core mandate of helping teachers and students,” she said. – Rappler.com