Duterte's office has highest confidential, intel funds in proposed 2020 budget


MANILA, Philippines – It's no longer a surprise that the Office of the President (OP) gets a sizeable share of the pie when it comes to confidential and intelligence funds in the national budget.

Since the Duterte administration crafted its first budget in 2017, the OP has been allotted a total of P2.5 billion for its sensitive activities. But it came as a shock to lawmakers and critics, as the OP's allocation is 400% more than the previous administration's confidential and intelligence funds. The Aquino administration kept a much lower budget of P500 million a year.

In the last 3 years, the Duterte administration maintained the same allocation of P2.5 billion for the said budget items. But for 2020, the OP is poised not only to get generous funds – but to receive almost double its previous budget at P4.5 billion. (READ: Are Duterte's multi-million-peso intel funds achieving their purpose?)

Duterte's confidential and intelligence funds comprise more than half of the entire P8.28-billion OP budget under the proposed P4.1-trillion national budget.

The allocation is even higher than what is to be given to the police and the military.

In 2019, the OP got the highest allocation for these expenditures, but this covered only about a third of the total allocation of P7.03 billion for intel and confidential funds. The funds for cops and soldiers combined still surpassed the President's confidential and intel funds at the time.

But under the proposed 2020 budget, the President's funds might overtake everyone else.

Confidential funds

The specific use of confidential and intelligence funds are not disclosed to the public, as these are supposed to be spent for matters relating to national security and peace and order.

By their very nature, they are difficult to audit, the Commission on Audit had previously admitted.

Rappler checked the Budget of Expenditures and Sources of Financing for the next fiscal year and found that for all government agencies, including the OP, a total of P3.5 billion will be going to their confidential funds alone. 

At least 19 government offices will benefit from the allocation, with the OP getting the lion's share of the confidential funds at 64.34% or P2.25 billion. Its proposed funds have almost doubled at 80% more compared to last year's P1.25 billion. 

Next to the OP is the lumped allocation for "Other Executive Offices," shared among 6 offices. Agency budgets remained the same from 2019, except for the National Security Council, which did not receive any confidential fund for 2020.

The Department of Justice ranked 3rd on the list, at 10.23% of the total confidential funds, or P357.64 million. 

Next year, the DOJ stands to lose at least 3.57% equivalent to P12.85 million from its 2019 allocation of P370.49 billion.

The Office of the Solicitor General – which has been accused of running after the enemies of the President – is the only agency, aside from OP, that received an increase for its confidential funds at a whopping 92% hike at P19.2 million. This is almost double its 2019 allocation pegged at P10 million only.

The Department of National Defense and the Commission on Human Rights also had slashed confidential funds. DND will only have P23 million for next year, down from the 2019 allocation of P28.04 million. The CHR, which used to have P5 million, will have only P1 million for its confidential activities.

The biggest loser among agencies is the Department of Information and Communications Technology with an allocation of P400 million for confidential activities in 2019. Despite having former military man and senator Gregorio Honasan as its chief, it has none in the proposed budget bill for 2020.

Intel funds

Meanwhile, a total of P4.78 billion will be split among 5 departments for intelligence funds.

The amount allocated for OP intelligence activities is at P2.25 billion as well, which is 47.01% or a little less than half of the total allocation. Among the 5, it is the only agency whose funds were increased.

For what it's worth, the OP's intelligence fund is even bigger than that of the military. The DND was only given P1.7 billion for 2020, some P49 million less than its 2019 funds of P1.749 billion.

The amount was deducted from the budget of the Armed Forces of the Philippines general headquarters. From having P1.24 billion, it is only set to have P1.19 billion for next year.

While at the forefront of the President's campaign against illegal drugs, the Philippine National Police was not excluded from fund reductions. Its intelligence fund also dipped by 12% to P806 million, or some P111 million less than its 2019 allotment of P917.93.

This is contrary to the President's pronouncement that he has given the police "billions" to fund his bloody anti-drug campaign.

In addition, intelligence funds of the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency received a hefty 85.59% cut from P140.2 million in 2019 to a proposed P20.2 million for 2020. Yet NICA is supposed to be the "primary intelligence collection and analysis arm" of the Philippine government in charge of carrying out overt, covert, and clandestine intelligence programs.

Red flag?

In the past, major corruption scandals revolved around the use of confidential and intelligence funds.

Even if the government tried to improve control over their liquidation, receipts are hard to come by, making state auditors rely on mere certifications.

Malacañang defended the increase in these funds and said that they will be used for security purposes. For Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo, the OP is among the "better offices" to secure the country.

But more than corruption allegations, critics are wary of something else. Bayan Muna congressman Carlos Zarate warned against an "unannounced martial law," especially now that the interior department is pushing for the revival of the archaic anti-subversion law. (READ: Creating a Marcos? Reviving the anti-subversion law under Duterte)

Vice President Leni Robredo also said that the public deserves to know the reason behind such an "unusual increase" in funds. Just for perspective, these funds amount to more than half of the OP's total proposed budget at P8.25 billion.

In the previous years, the Duterte administration prided itself for its sources of information that led to lists of alleged narco-politicians some of them already dead, the 2018 "Red October plot," and the most recent, the "ouster plot matrix" accusing journalists and critics of plotting to unseat the President. 

"The Office of the President, it has to have resources to determine threats against the state. That's necessary, and you need money for that," Panelo said.

The proposed 2020 budget will still undergo months of legislative scrutiny before it is approved. The question remains: will Congress allow Duterte's office to have that much funds? – Rappler.com

Aika Rey

Aika Rey covers the Philippine Senate for Rappler. Before writing about politicians, she covered budget, labor, and transportation issues.

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