confidential funds

Estelito Mendoza is Sara Duterte’s lawyer for confidential funds case in SC

Jairo Bolledo

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Estelito Mendoza is Sara Duterte’s lawyer for confidential funds case in SC

VICE PRESIDENT. Vice President Sara Duterte.

Inday Sara Duterte Facebook page

Mendoza's legal victories include the junking of the disqualification case vs Marcos Jr. and the plunder acquittals of Arroyo and Revilla

Former solicitor general Estelito Mendoza, who handled major cases like President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s disqualification and Presidential Legal Adviser Juan Ponce Enrile’s pork barrel scam, is representing Vice President Sara Duterte in the latter’s cases involving confidential funds pending before the Supreme Court (SC).

Mendoza’s name appeared as Duterte’s legal counsel on the Vice President’s submitted reply to the High Court regarding the three pending cases challenging the constitutionality of her confidential funds in 2022. The comment, which is part of the SC’s requirements for parties in pending cases, was dated May 9, 2024, but was only recently accessed by reporters.

Especially in legal circles, Mendoza’s name is not to be belittled.

Mendoza was former dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos’ solicitor general. He has under his belt victories that include the plunder acquittals of former president, now lawmaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and ex-senator Bong Revilla. Through Mendoza, Enrile was also granted bail in the former senator’s plunder case.

Enrile’s bail helped the President’s mother, Imelda, to secure post-conviction bail after her conviction for seven counts of graft. Mendoza’s major wins also include the Philippine Airlines case, a 20-year-old legal battle that unions already won thrice in the SC. The former solicitor general was able to revive the case and win by writing letters that were later considered as motions. 

Senior Associate Justice Marvic Leonen, who dissented in the decision, called it “highly irregular, suspect, and violative of due process of law.”

Mendoza’s latest wins include the junking of the disqualification case against Marcos and the temporary release in January 2023, of Jessica Lucila “Gigi” Reyes, Enrile’s former chief of staff tagged in the pork barrel scam.

Arguments before SC

At least three petitions were filed with the SC, challenging Sara Duterte’s confidential funds in 2022. In their comment to the High Court, the Duterte camp argued there was no “justiciable controversy” in the petitions, which are required for the Court to exercise its adjudication powers.

The Duterte camp said it was not enough that laws have been passed “or are in effect when their constitutionality is questioned.” They argued there must be claims of abuse or violation of rights anchored on the real acts, and “not merely hypothetical scenarios.”

“The allegations of the petitions do not show ‘actual controversy involving rights, which are legally demandable and enforceable’ as required by the Constitution. The petitioners [failed to show] that they will suffer or [have] suffered any concrete injury resulting from the act supposedly committed by respondent VP Sara ‘with grave abuse of discretion,'” the comment read.

The comment also said that the petitioners only made a “blanket allegation” that they are taxpayers but “without the constitutional requirement of justiciability.”

As in usual replies, Duterte’s camp asked the SC to dismiss the petitions filed against the Vice President’s confidential funds.

Estelito Mendoza is Sara Duterte’s lawyer for confidential funds case in SC
Pending petitions

On November 7, 2023, a group of legal and economic experts, including Constitution framer Christian Monsod, filed a petition with the SC, arguing that the transfer of confidential funds to the Office of the Vice President (OVP) was a “clear usurpation of power of Congress.”

The first petition argued that the transfer of funds from the national budget to the OVP is an exercise of legislative power, adding that Congress has the mandate to decide how the budget will be spent, including on what programs or activities the money will be used.

A week later, on November 15, lawyers led by retired senior associate justice Antonio Carpio filed the second petition, where they asked the High Court to declare null and void Joint Circular No. 2015-01 and Executive Order (EO) No. 2 (S. 2016), also known as the Freedom of Information (FOI) order signed by former president Rodrigo Duterte.

The grant and liquidation of confidential and intelligence funds are covered by the said joint circular. The same circular also states that intelligence funds can only be used for counter-intelligence activities and special projects and operations, while confidential funds can be used to purchase information necessary in the implementation of a government program, among others.

Later, on December 11, Makabayan lawmakers and other activists filed the third petition and asked the Court to void and declare unconstitutional the release, request, receipt, and use of Duterte’s P125-million confidential funds in 2022.

In 2023, the use of confidential and intelligence funds became controversial because of the influx of agencies requesting them. Since these funds are confidential, they are much more difficult to audit as they are exempted from the Commission on Audit’s (COA) standard procedures.

The transfer to Duterte’s OVP of P125-million confidential funds was also questioned because the said money was not originally part of the OVP’s budget for 2022. The COA later revealed that Duterte spent the said amount in only 11 days.

Due to public uproar and pressure, Congress removed Duterte’s P650-million confidential funds request (P500 million for OVP, P150 million for the Department of Education) for 2024. –

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Jairo Bolledo

Jairo Bolledo is a multimedia reporter at Rappler covering justice, police, and crime.