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MANILA, Philippines – The House of Representatives gave in to public clamor, committing to remove the confidential funds allotted to Sara Duterte’s Office of the Vice President (OVP) and Department of Education (DepEd) in the proposed 2024 budget.
In a statement, House appropriations committee chairperson Zaldy Co confirmed that the two offices are among the civilian agencies whose confidential and intelligence funds will be realigned to augment the budgets of government agencies at the forefront of efforts to address tensions in the West Philippine Sea.
“So far that’s what we have identified, but we’re still looking at other sources,” Co said in a statement on Wednesday night, September 27, referring to the OVP’s P500-million confidential fund and the DepEd’s P150-million confidential fund.
“Now is the time to give our intelligence community the means to perform their duties, especially in these pressing times when we’re facing serious concerns in the West Philippine Sea,” he added.
Beneficiaries of the move would include the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency, National Security Council, Philippine Coast Guard (PCG), and Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources.
The decision was made unanimously by the House’s power blocs: Lakas-CMD, National Unity Party, PDP-Laban, Nacionalista Party, Nationalist People’s Coalition, and Party-List Coalition Foundation.
Specifically, the move was triggered by China’s installation of a 300-meter floating barrier in the southeast portion of Bajo de Masinloc (Scarborough Shoal) – a move that prevented Filipino fishermen from fishing in the area.
The PCG has since conducted a “special operation” to remove the barrier.
Some critics have pointed out that the PCG is much more deserving of secret funds than the Duterte-led OVP.
Among them is Senator Risa Hontiveros, who had questioned the paltry P10-million intelligence fund for the PCG in the proposed 2024 budget.
Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri said earlier on Wednesday that his chamber would follow suit, realigning the secret funds to “our intelligence community as well as our Coast Guard and the Armed Forces of the Philippines.”
The three-member Makabayan bloc in Congress insisted that the right thing to do is abolish confidential funds and drastically reduce intelligence funds.
“Reallocating funds to address external threats, particularly the aggressive incursions of China in our EEZ (exclusive economic zone), is necessary, but not all these funds need to be confidential in nature,” they said in a joint statement.
Biggest controversy yet
Duterte is in hot water for issues on transparency regarding her secret funds, particularly in 2022.
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.
Critics have flagged the release of funds as unconstitutional since the power to appropriate lies with Congress. Several officials have defended Duterte, trying to justify the allocations on her behalf.
For 2024, the Marcos administration is seeking P10.1 billion in secret funds, which are difficult to audit because they are exempted from standard procedures of the Commission on Audit.
Based on the proposal, the OP would get nearly half of it or P4.56 billion. – Rappler.com