Done in 3 minutes! House panel approves OP budget

BUDGET HEARING. Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea and Senior Deputy Executive Secretary Menardo Guevarra huddle with House appropriations committee chair Representative Karlo Nograles.

Photo by Pia Ranada/Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – The House of Representatives appropriations committee approved in 3 minutes the 2018 budget of the Office of the President (OP) on Thursday, August 24.

It was a repeat of last year when they also approved the 2017 budget of President Rodrigo Duterte's office within minutes.

The committee asked no questions and decided there was no need for the OP, represented by Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea, to present their proposed budget.

Albay 1st District Representative Edcel Lagman, a member of the opposition and among Duterte's critics in the lower chamber, moved for the approval of the budget, saying questions could be asked during the House plenary deliberations.

"I move, consistent with tradition that we dispense with the presentation of the proposed 2018 budget of the OP proper and I further move that we approve at the committee level said proposed appropriation without prejudice to its consideration and interpellation during the plenary session," said Lagman.

House Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas seconded the motion.

Before the hearing ended, Medialdea relayed the OP's gratitude to the House for its support of Duterte's policies and programs.

“I would just like to take this opportunity to thank the members of the House of Representatives for the support and assistance they have extended to the President," said Medialdea.

Confidential, intel funds

The OP is asking for P6.03 billion for 2018, less than a third of its 2017 budget of P20.2 billion.

The large decrease is because the OP is no longer spending for the hosting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summits and other related events. The Duterte government had asked for around P15 billion for the hosting.

2017 is the year of the Philippines' ASEAN chairmanship, a responsibility rotated among ASEAN member-countries yearly. The country chairing ASEAN hosts the international summits during that year.

The OP's proposed 2018 budget is around twice as much as its budget in 2016: P2.825 billion.

But it proposed to retain the P1.25 billion each for "Confidential Expenses" and "Intelligence Expenses." 

This was the same budget approved by Congress under the 2017 General Appropriations Act. The amounts are 400% higher than the confidential and intelligence funds in 2016 – P250 million each.

The Department of Budget and Management previously said the higher budget would be used "mainly for President Rodrigo R. Duterte's war against drugs, criminality and corruption."

Duterte himself said in a speech that he would not use the funds for personal gain.

"Wala naman ako hiningi na sabihin mo ibulsa ko (I am not asking for anything I will pocket)," he said in August 2016.

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.

COA, however, has crafted guidelines on the proper reporting, documentation, and use of these sensitive funds. 

Last year, Senator Antonio Trillanes IV questioned the large intelligence and confidential funds for the OP, saying these were better allocated to law enforcement and intelligence agencies.

For "Travel Expenses", the OP is asking for a lower budget of P885 million. For 2017, the budget for this item was P2.13 billion, due to the many local and international travels of officials for the ASEAN summit hosting. – Rappler.com

Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada is a senior reporter for Rappler covering Philippine politics and environmental issues. For tips and story suggestions, email her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.

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