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MANILA, Philippines – The Office of the Vice President (OVP) and the Department of Education (DepEd) have long been scheduled to defend their proposed 2024 budgets in the House of Representatives plenary on Tuesday, September 26, but it was postponed after Vice President Sara Duterte failed to show up.
“As written in our schedule, after the Office of the President, there should be OVP and DepEd. What’s the estimated time that [their budgets] will be deliberated?” House Deputy Minority Leader France Castro of ACT Teachers asked in the session hall on Tuesday afternoon.
“The Office of the Vice President, as well as the secretary of the Department of Education, has conveyed a message to the committee on appropriations, as well as the committee on rules, of a possible conflict in schedule, details of which yours truly is not yet privy,” Deputy Majority Leader Janette Garin replied.
Garin added that debates on the proposed budgets of Duterte’s offices have been temporarily rescheduled to Wednesday, September 27.
In Duterte’s official Viber group, her staff has yet to respond to reporters’ request for a statement on the matter.
Reporters, as early as September 14, already obtained a copy of the schedule of the floor deliberations for the 2024 budget requests of government agencies.
This meant that Duterte had two weeks to clear her schedule and prioritize the House plenary debates on Tuesday, since defending the budget before Congress is one of the most important events for government agencies every year.
An opposition lawmaker said no government agency this year has asked to reschedule the budget hearing on the day the agency is supposed to face the House.
“Last-minute cancellations with vague explanations in any context is unprofessional,” Kabataan Representative Raoul Manuel said.
“If there’s no clear explanation, it would seem that that the OVP and DepEd just got scared to face the public and explain [on key issues], such as the confidential funds,” he added.
Duterte is in hot water for not addressing issues related to her secret funds in 2022, amounting to P125 million.
Her office was not supposed to have such funds in the first place, since she only continued using the budget of her predecessor Leni Robredo, whose office did not request confidential funds in 2022.
It was later established that she sought confidential funds from the Department of Budget and Management, and the request was approved by the Office of the President.
It is also unclear why she needed such a huge amount of money, which was exhausted only within 11 days in December 2022, according to state auditors.
The budget department has said the confidential funds were for the safe implementation of projects across the OVP’s satellite offices in 2022, among others. – Rappler.com