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Photo by Pia Ranada/Rappler
MANILA, Philippines – As in previous years, the House appropriations committee approved within minutes the 2019 proposed budget of the Office of the President.
After 9 minutes and with no questions asked, Albay 1st District Representative Edcel Lagman, a member of the opposition and among President Rodrigo Duterte's critics in the House, moved for the termination of the hearing "consistent with the enduring tradition in this committee."
He, however, said questions on the OP budget could still be asked during the plenary. Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo was present at the budget hearing.
Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea began the short budget presentation by thanking the House for passing the Bangsamoro Organic Law, a key campaign promise of Duterte.
Deputy Executive Secretary for Finance and Administration Rizalina Justol then made a short presentation of the P6.773-billion proposed budget.
The proposed 2019 budget is 12.32% higher than the OP's 2018 budget.
"The increase takes into account the inflation rate, the implementation of the 4th tranche of the Salary Standardization law, retrofitting of office buildings, replacement of worn out tools and equipment," explained Medialdea.
In an interview with reporters after the hearing, Medialdea defended the retention of P1.25 billion each for "Confidential Expenses" and "Intelligence Expenses."
The same amount was allocated for these two types of expenses in 2018 and 2017. It is 400% higher than the confidential and intelligence funds in 2016 – P250 million each. (READ: Lacson seeks more scrutiny of Duterte's intel funds)
Asked by Rappler what the funds are being used for, Medialdea said the amount is acceptable because it is being used effectively.
"Siguro palatable muna 'yung amounts na 'yun at this point in time. Effective naman, nakakatulong naman sa pamamalakad (I suppose those amounts are palatable at this point in time. It's effective, it helps with running things)," he said.
The Department of Budget and Management previously said the confidential and intelligence funds would be used "mainly for President Rodrigo R. Duterte's war against drugs, criminality and corruption."
Confidential and intelligence funds are difficult to audit because the offices that spend them are not required to produce receipts.
These funds are expected to be used for "intelligence gathering" or the "purchase of information" necessary for public safety and national security, according to former Commission on Audit chief Grace Pulido Tan. (EXPLAINER: Office of the President's confidential, intel funds)
COA, however, has crafted guidelines on the proper reporting, documentation, and use of these sensitive funds.
For travel Expenses, the OP is asking for a lower budget of P796 million. For 2018, it had asked for P885 million. – Rappler.com
Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.