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MANILA, Philippines – The Commission on Audit (COA) confirmed on Monday, September 25, that the Office of the Vice President (OVP) under Sara Duterte’s leadership spent its P125-million confidential funds in 2022 within a shorter period of time than previously reported.
“Past discussions indicated that the OVP spent the P125 million within 19 days, which seems to be a very short period of time. Can the COA confirm this?” House assistant minority leader Arlene Brosas of Gabriela asked COA during the plenary deliberations of the commission’s proposed 2024 budget.
“The truth is, I was also surprised when I heard reports that the amount was spent within 19 days. I asked COA and I checked numerous reports. It was not spent within 19 days, but 11 days,” answered House appropriations senior vice chairperson Stella Quimbo, who was speaking on behalf of COA as its budget sponsor in the House.
The revelation visibly shocked Brosas, who pointed out that it meant the OVP spent around P11 million per day for the 11-day period in December 2022.
Quimbo said the OVP already submitted its liquidation reports to COA in January 2023.
“The audit is ongoing. This morning, I learned that the COA has given its preliminary observations to the Office of the Vice President. In other words, the COA has issued its audit observation memorandum (AOM),” Quimbo said.
An AOM is a written notification to government agencies about deficiencies on financial documents they submitted. The memo requires them to address the observations and submit missing documents. Generally, an AOM is not published because its issuance doesn’t automatically mean there is corruption.
Why the OVP’s 2022 confidential expenses are a big issue
It was only after COA reports were published in July that the public found out that the OVP incurred P125 million in confidential expenses in 2022.
That’s even though the budget approved by Congress did not provide confidential funds to the Office of the Vice President that year. The OVP’s budget in 2022 was prepared by Duterte’s predecessor Leni Robredo.
It was later established that the money came from contingent funds of the 2022 national budget, released by the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) to the OVP upon approval of the Office of the President.
Executive Secretary Lucas Bersamin previously said the confidential funds released to the OVP in 2022 were for newly created satellite offices, but it is unclear why Duterte needed secret funds to operate them.
Critics are also concerned about whether the transaction was constitutional, given that a government agency cannot simply transfer funds to another agency because the power to appropriate lies in Congress. They also said there was no line item for confidential funds in the OVP’s 2022 budget.
Quimbo’s most recent explanation was that the contingent funds were transferred to the OVP through the existing line item that was the Good Governance Program, under which confidential expenses were incurred.
For 2024, Duterte is asking Congress for confidential funds worth P500 million for the OVP, and P150 million for the Department of Education, which she also heads. – Rappler.com