Lawmakers said on Thursday, September 9, that they will work to increase or at least restore the 2022 budget of the National Bureau of Investigation to the same level as 2021.
During the budget hearing of the Department of Justice (DOJ) and its attached agencies, Samar First District Representative Edgar Sarmiento wondered aloud why a hardworking agency like the NBI should have less funds in 2022.
“Kasi nakikita ko ang ahensyang ito nagtatrabaho. Bakit bumaba ang budget nila by 13%? We don’t want to shortchange the NBI funding, sila po ang ang nagsasagawa ng tinatawag na impartial investigation,” said Sarmiento.
(I’m seeing that this this agency is working hard. Why did their budget decrease by 13%? We don’t want to shortchange the NBI funding, they’re the ones doing the impartial investigations.)
Of all the DOJ agencies, it’s only the NBI that suffered a budget cut. From its current budget of P2.28 billion, their proposed 2022 budget as approved by the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) is down to P1.96 billion or a difference of around P314 million.
NBI officer-in-charge Eric Distor said the amount would have funded an ehhancement of their cybercrime capabilities.
“We really need the money,” Distor told the House appropriations committee.
Sarmiento moved to restore the P314 million to the NBI’s budget, which would be debated further in the House plenary.
Gabriela Representative Arlene Brosas made a suggestion on where to get the funds to restore the NBI budget.
“Kunin po natin ‘yung funding sa NTF-ELCAC, 13% lang naman (Let’s get it from the NTF-ELCAC, it’s just 13%),” said Brosas, which elicited light laughs from the room.
The National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) has a proposed budget of P28.1 billion for 2022.
Why favor the ‘prodigal son’?
Without naming a specific agency, Magsasaka Representative Argel Cabatbat said. “Para bang nabibigyan natin ng pondo ‘yung alibughang anak pero itong NBI na nag-peperform exemplarily, bukod sa maliit ang budget nababawasan pa.”
(It’s like we’re giving funds to the prodigal son, but the NBI which is performing exemplarily does not only have a small budget, it was even reduced.
The NBI usually handles high-profile investigations, for example, the pork barrel scam.
While the Philippine National Police (PNP) is primarily the investigators in most lower-profile situations, the NBI steps up when the PNP is involved, or when the PNP messes up like in the case of flight attendant Christine Dacera or the ambush on Calbayog mayor Ronaldo Aquino.
“Nang magbarilan ang PDEA at PNP, saan ba tayo tumakbo, hindi ba sa NBI? ‘Nung nagkabarilan ang militar at PNP? Kanino tayo humingi ng tulong, ‘di ba sa NBI? That only means we all recognize the professionalism and impartiality of NBI,” said Cabatbat.
The NBI, however, received some criticisms during the pandemic when it issued dozens of subpoenas to people who made some social media posts that put the government’s COVID-19 response in a bad light.
The NBI also sent subpoenas to people around the country upon the request of Senator Bong Go, who complained about negative posts about him.
Responding to lawmakers’ questions during the budget hearing, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said he is ready to tap the NBI when he sees the need to investigate the many questions hounding the Duterte government’s use of pandemic funds.
Guevarra said in response to a follow-up question from the media that for now, they will “continue to observe the Senate proceedings until everyone has been duly heard on the factual issues.”