Tough-talking Duterte still hasn’t fully explained OVP’s 2022 confidential funds

Bea Cupin

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Tough-talking Duterte still hasn’t fully explained OVP’s 2022 confidential funds

SARA DUTERTE. In this file photo, Vice President Sara Duterte attends the budget hearing on the proposed 2024 budget of the Office of the Vice President at the House of Representatives on August 30, 2023.


It remains unclear, for instance, why the Office of the Vice President's satellite offices required confidential funds in 2022

MANILA, Philippines – After hurdling two budget panels in the House and the Senate, and after a long thank-you letter to her allies in the executive and the legislative, Vice President Sara Duterte has yet to explain basic questions over the transfer of P125 million for confidential funds from the Office of the President (OP) to her office in 2022.

Instead, Duterte has resorted mostly to blanket denials and clap backs against two particular critics: ACT Teachers Representative France Castro and Senator Risa Hontiveros – two women legislators in a Congress dominated by allies of Duterte. 

“These efforts are genuinely appreciated because they help counter the lies told by [Representative] France Castro and the Makabayan bloc in Congress on the 2022 OVP CF (Office of the Vice President confidential funds). Senator Risa Hontiveros, while she amuses the nation with her flair for drama, could only wish the 2022 OVP CF was accessed illegally,” Duterte said in a statement that thanked allies for explaining the fund but offered little explanation on the fund itself. 

Trabaho lang, walang drama. Akala ko ba, VP Sara, the OVP can live without confidential funds? Bakit parang pinapawisan na yata kayo diyan, budget hearing pa lang?” said Hontiveros in response to Duterte. 

(No drama, just work. I thought you said the OVP can live without confidential funds? Why do you seem so nervous, when this is just a budget hearing?) 

Duterte has not specifically addressed criticism and issues raised by former Senate president Franklin Drilon and Senate Minority Leader Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III. 

In a chat group with communications officials of the Office of the Vice President (OVP), reporters have repeatedly requested additional details on the OVP’s 2022 spending, particularly explanations on the 2022 confidential funds of the Vice President. The OVP has yet to respond. 

For instance, it’s unclear why and how the confidential funds were used for the OVP’s satellite offices. Media queries have yet to be answered as of this posting. 

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Confidential funds are supposed to be used for “surveillance activities in civilian government agencies that are intended to support the mandate or operations of the said agency.”

Confidential funds under the OVP?

According to a Commission on Audit Report (COA), the OVP under Duterte spent P125 million in confidential funds in 2022 – a fiscal year that was split between her and her predecessor, former vice president Leni Robredo. 

The revelation was controversial because Robredo – unlike Vice President Duterte’s father former president Rodrigo Duterte, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., and the incumbent Vice President – had never asked for confidential funds. The 2022 General Appropriations Act (GAA), or the law that states the national government’s provisions for a given year, does not contain a line item for confidential funds under the OVP. 

It’s taken a whole group of government officials to defend the OVP’s apparent 2022 confidential fund. 

Executive Secretary Lucas Bersamin, in a statement on September 5, justified the OP’s decision to release P221 million for financial assistance/subsidy and confidential funds to the OVP, citing Special Provision No. 1 under FY 2022 Contingent Fund.

Bersamin, former chief justice, claimed the provision allowed the President to approve fund releases to cover “new and urgent” activities of government agencies. 

“VP Sara, who was newly elected then, needed funds for her new programs for the remaining period of 2022. The President supported this initiative and released the funds, with the favorable recommendation of [the Department of Budget and Management],” said Bersamin. 

Bersamin offered no other details. Duterte, in her latest September 11 statement, thanked the Little President “for a detailed presentation of facts about the 2022 OVP CF and elucidating that the request, approval, and spending of the fund violated no law, which is diametrically adverse to what critics have been repeatedly harping.”

Tough-talking Duterte still hasn’t fully explained OVP’s 2022 confidential funds

She also thanked Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro, a losing senatorial bet under their 2022 coalition, for defending the creation of the Vice Presidential Security and Protection Group and “rebuking” those who supposedly were “against institutions tasked to ensure peace and security.”

The Vice President also thanked Marikina 2nd District Representative and House appropriations senior vice chairperson Stella Quimbo for “bravely and rationally facing a gang of individuals who had successfully mastered the art of fabricating lies.”

Quimbo, in an ANC interview, said the transfer was allowed because, supposedly, the item on confidential and intelligence funds already existed in 2022 or under the last budget prepared by the OVP under Robredo.

“It just so happened that the amount was zero. You can actually augment an item because the item already existed,” said Quimbo. 

“Confidential, Intelligence, and Extraordinary Expenses” is a heading under the 2022 budget of the OVP, but there is no line item specifically for confidential and intelligence funds. Extraordinary and Miscellaneous Expenses for that year were allocated P620,000. The subsequent budget proposals for 2023 and 2024, and the eventual GAA for 2023, include line items for confidential expenses and intelligence expenses. 

‘Dirty imagination

In her September 11 statement, Duterte taunted both Hontiveros and Castro for supposedly not being able to “produce any proof to support their dirty imagination.”

“The indignity they have caused Congress and the Senate should be enough for us not to give them serious attention,” said Duterte, who had breezed through House and Senate panels on the OVP budget because of “parliamentary courtesy.”

For 2024, the OVP and the Department of Education (DepEd), which Duterte also heads, want over P650 million in confidential and intelligence funds, known collectively as the CIF. 

Duterte also replied to the September 11 statement released by Castro that questioned the legality of the OP to OVP transfer and Duterte’s supposed “extravagant use of taxpayers’ money” in disbursing P125 million within 19 days.

The Vice President dismissed the lawmaker’s points as mere “assumptions,” “a legal opinion of Ms Castro, who is not a lawyer,” “a personal conclusion,” “an opinion,” “Ms Castro insisting on what she wants, even if it is wrong,” and a “finding of Ms Castro who is not an auditor.”

Yet the response itself did not say why Castro was wrong. 

A budget expert earlier flagged the 2022 OVP confidential fund as a “dangerous precedent,” meaning interagency transfers could be abused, especially by officials close to a sitting president. – 

1 comment

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  1. ET

    Whether there was an explanation or not, VP Sara Duterte had already gotten the 2022 OVP Confidential Fund. It was evident that VP Sara Duterte was contented and had to be contented with the defense done by her allies in both the Executive and Legislative Branches of government. She felt that she did not have to say anything anymore. This is a clear violation of the principles of Transparency and Accountability, which sets a “dangerous precedent” for more violations of the same principles to come. If these violations will continue, then the Marcos Jr. Government has become a Government of Men and not a Government of Law. More likely, the same thing will happen with that of the future government under VP Sara Duterte.

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Bea Cupin

Bea is a senior multimedia reporter who covers national politics. She's been a journalist since 2011 and has written about Congress, the national police, and the Liberal Party for Rappler.