Stella Quimbo

Who is Stella Quimbo, the staunch defender of Sara Duterte’s confidential funds?

Jezreel Ines, Dwight de Leon

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Who is Stella Quimbo, the staunch defender of Sara Duterte’s confidential funds?

ECONOMIST. Representative Stella Quimbo during the hearing on the proposed 2024 budget of the Office of the Ombudsman, at the House of Representatives on September 11, 2023.


Before becoming a defender of the Maharlika fund and Vice President Sara Duterte's confidential expense, Quimbo had been more closely associated with the opposition

MANILA, Philippines – As the budget deliberation season rolled in the halls of Congress, the Office of the Vice President (OVP) once again came under close scrutiny with its request for an additional P500 million in confidential funds for 2024.

The disbursement of P125 million in confidential funds under the OVP’s 2022 budget raised some eyebrows, especially when subsequent budget documents and audit reports revealed the absence of allocations under that line item for the same year.

Vice President Sara Duterte clarified that the amount, approved by the Office of the President (OP), was disbursed via the budget department.

Throughout the congressional budget defense proceedings, one voice was unwavering in its defense of the Vice President: that of Marikina City 2nd District Representative Stella Luz Quimbo.

In an interview on ANC last September 7, Quimbo said these transfers were common practice and entirely legal. “The line item, which was confidential and intelligence funds, already existed in 2022, it just so happened that the amount was zero. You can actually augment an item, because the item already existed,” the house appropriations committee senior vice chairperson said.

Former Senate president Frank Drilon, however, pointed out that the confidential fund disbursement to the OVP was unconstitutional.

This left many wondering how a former active member of the minority became a voice of the supermajority. What has been Quimbo’s track record and what are important things to know about her?

Academic luminary

Quimbo, 53, graduated summa cum laude with a Bachelor of Science degree in Economics. She likewise obtained master’s and doctorate degrees also in Economics, all from the University of the Philippines Diliman.

Quimbo served as professor and department chair at the University of the Philippines School of Economics (UPSE). 

In 2011, she was appointed to the prestigious Prince Claus Chair in Development and Equity at the International Institute of Social Studies of Erasmus University Rotterdam, with the rank of full professor, UPSE announced with full pride.

Her research expertise encompasses a range of fields, including health economics, industrial organization, microeconomics, education, poverty, and public policy.

Gov’t career, Congress minority member

Editor’s Note: An earlier version reported that Quimbo was appointed to the PCC by Rodrigo Duterte. This has been corrected.

In 2016, Quimbo was appointed by President Benigno Aquino III to the Philippine Competition Commission, where she served as a commissioner until her resignation in 2019.

In the 2019 elections, she ran for Congress under the Liberal Party and was elected to represent Marikina’s second district. She succeeded her husband, Miro Quimbo, in this position after he reached his term limit, winning the election against independent candidates Eugene de Vera and Mauro Arce.

During her first term, Quimbo’s legislative initiatives primarily aimed to enhance the well-being of Filipinos by promoting improved economic policies, more effective government services, and increased transparency and accountability within government. 

Quimbo took on the roles of House assistant minority leader and subsequently deputy minority leader. Additionally, she served as the co-chairperson of the House subcommittee responsible for the economic stimulus response package.

Quimbo was a member of a technical working group responsible for examining the renewal of ABS-CBN’s franchise, the largest broadcasting network in the Philippines. 

She stood alone in her dissenting opinion, as the other two members, Pablo John Garcia (Cebu’s 3rd District) and Xavier Jesus Romualdo (Camiguin), opted to reject ABS-CBN’s application for a new franchise.

She also questioned the lack of support in the Bayanihan budget for healthcare workers and medical frontliners at the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Jumping to supermajority coalition

After the 2022 elections, Quimbo left the minority and joined the supermajority coalition of the Marcos administration in the House led by the President’s cousin Speaker Martin Romualdez.

According to her staff, the lawmaker, as of September 2023, remains a member of the Liberal Party (LP), whose influence in the House has significantly diminished through the years. LP president Edcel Lagman told Rappler back in February that the LP contingent in the chamber has been reduced to seven. 

Now a second-term congresswoman, Quimbo is a member of 14 House committees, none of which she is the chairperson. But she is the senior vice chairperson of the committee on appropriations, which holds the chamber’s external power of the purse as it evaluates the administration’s proposed budget. 

Face of the Maharlika fund 

Quimbo was among the six original authors of the Maharlika Investment Fund (MIF), alongside Speaker Romualdez, Majority Leader Mannix Dalipe, Senior Majority Leader Sandro Marcos, and Tingog Representatives Yedda Romualdez and Jude Acidre. Half of the people on that list are part of the Marcos clan.

She brushed aside allegations that the bill was being railroaded by the House, even though the measure hurdled the committee within days after it was introduced. Only one public consultation on the measure was held.

“Did we tell [resource speakers] to stop talking? We did not,” she told Rappler in December 2022, when asked to respond to criticisms that the bill was being rushed. 

When House proponents caved in and dropped pension funds from the MIF, it was Quimbo alone who faced the media to make the announcement, and not any of her co-authors.

When both chambers passed their own versions of the proposal, Quimbo was part of the House delegation in the bicameral conference committee that reconciled disagreeing provisions.

House voice on economic policies

The House majority appears to have constantly relied on Quimbo when it comes to economic policymaking.  

In January, Quimbo filed the resolution that triggered the House inquiry into the skyrocketing prices of onions and agricultural commodities. She was a constant presence during the marathon hearings, interrogating people tied to alleged cartels. It was she who announced the panel’s findings in May.

In September, Quimbo proposed that the Philippine president be given the power to put the country under a national rice emergency when circumstances are dire.

Defender of Duterte’s confidential expense

Perhaps Quimbo’s biggest controversy yet involves her efforts to defend the release by the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) of contingent funds to the Office of the Vice President in 2022, which the OVP used for its confidential expenses. The Office of the President approved the transfer. 

Although the transfer was alleged to be unconstitutional, Quimbo worked hard to defend the transaction

At first, she said the line item was “confidential and intelligence funds,” then later said the opposite. Quimbo said the contingent fund was released to the line item on good governance, under which a confidential expense was made.

She’s not Vice President Sara Duterte’s spokesperson, but her role as senior vice chairperson of the appropriations panel compels her to sponsor the budget of government agencies in the plenary, as part of House procedures. 

Duterte acknowledged that Quimbo is among her defenders, thanking her and other government officials in an official statement. –

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Jezreel Ines

Jezreel is a researcher-writer at Rappler mainly focused on governance and social issues.
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Dwight de Leon

Dwight de Leon is a multimedia reporter who covers President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., the Malacañang, and the Commission on Elections for Rappler.