confidential funds

SC ruling: Confidential funds must directly connect to law enforcement

Rappler.com

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SC ruling: Confidential funds must directly connect to law enforcement

HIGH COURT. File photo of the Supreme Court in Padre Faura, Manila, taken on December 5, 2023.

Angie de Silva/Rappler

The SC dismisses a case for grave abuse of discretion against the Commission on Audit for issuing a notice of disallowance against a cash advance for supposed intelligence gathering activities

MANILA, Philippines – The Supreme Court (SC) has ruled that spending confidential funds for peace and order concerns must have a direct connection to law enforcement agencies.

SC ruling: Confidential funds must directly connect to law enforcement

The ruling comes as the SC dismissed a case for grave abuse of discretion against the Commission on Audit (COA), filed by a town government in Davao de Oro province (formerly Compostela Valley).

The local government argued against COA’s issuance of a notice of disallowance concerning a P2.6-million cash advance made by Laak town’s former mayor, Reynaldo Navarro, in 2011 for supposed confidential and intelligence gathering activities.

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The SC en banc, in a 14-page SC decision dated July 11 but only recently released, rejected the assertion that there was grave abuse of discretion on the part of the COA when it issued the notice of disallowance.

The COA’s Intelligence and Confidential Funds Audit Unit (ICFAU) said the town government’s confidential expenses were limited to 3% of the municipality’s annual budget for 2011 or 30% of the peace and order budget, whichever is lower. 

The rule, it said, is outlined in Item II.2 of the DILG Memorandum Circular No. 99-65.

Laak’s 2011 total budget was P143.89 million, giving a 3% limit of P4.317 million. However, the 30% limit based on the P5 million peace and order budget was P1.5 million, which became the maximum allowable funding for confidential activities.

The audit team disallowed P2.6 million, as it exceeded the approved limit when the cash advance drawn was P4.1 million.

The municipal government claimed a P18-million peace and order budget, including P4.24 million for “human rights advocacy” and P8.8 million for the “community development and monitoring program.” 

The COA did not consider these as legitimate peace and order expenditures. If the larger peace and order budget was allowed, the 30% limit would have been P5.4 million.

The SC ruling read in part, “Factual findings of administrative bodies charged with their specific field of expertise are afforded great weight by the courts, and in the absence of substantial evidence showing that such findings were made from an erroneous estimation of the evidence presented, they are deemed conclusive and binding upon this Court. In the interest of stability of the governmental structure, they should not be disturbed.” 

The SC upheld the ICFAU’s decision to reduce the municipality’s peace and order budget to P5 million based on a memorandum circular of the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG).

DILG Memorandum Circular No. 99-65 defined peace and order expenses, and clarified that expenses related to firearms, equipment, allowances, hospitalization, training subsidies, and maintenance for the police, fire bureau, and jail personnel are valid. 

The SC ruled that human rights advocacy, community development, and certain programs, including meals, snacks, and cash donations, don’t align with peace and order efforts. 

It also dismissed claims that these programs minimized rebel presence in Laak as unsubstantiated. – Rappler.com

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