Senate forms oversight committee on intelligence funds, programs

Senate forms oversight committee on intelligence funds, programs
Photos shows of senators in opening of the 19th congress at the Senate on July 25, 2022.
STAR / Mong Pintolo

MANILA, Philippines — The Senate on Monday formed the Select Oversight Committee on Intelligence and Confidential Funds, Programs and Activities to keep an eye on how the executive branch will spend around P9.28 billion in lump-sum allocations in the proposed 2023 national budget.

The grant of confidential funds to the executive branch — P4.5 billion to the Office of the President and around P650 million for Vice President Sara Duterte, who is concurrently secretary of the education department — has raised concern because these are not subject to the same audit rules as other budget items.

"In these times, we need to be more trusting of our government agencies," Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri, who was later designated chair of the select committee, said. He said that crime has evolved and that government agencies should be given resources to address it.

"We have to have faith that they will use every inch of diligence and discretion in undertaking surveillance and intelligence catheting in the discharge of their sacred mandates and in keeping with their oaths," he also said.

He said, however, that Congress must remember its "power and responsibility of the power of the purse" in checking how these funds are used. "Please trust that we will do our jobs," he said, promising that the committee would hold hearings on how Confidential and Intelligence Funds are used "if necessary."

RELATED: Duterte spent entire P4.5 billion allocation for confidential, intel funds in 2021

Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel III, who will also be part of the committee, acknowledged that the creation of oversight committees on intelligence funds has long been done by the Senate. 

"Let’s continue the good practice,” he said, adding, however, that “ there is an even better practice, which is to discourage the allocation of lump sums."

He said that while lawmakers "tried our best" to decrease the amount of and discourage the grant of CIFs, the committee would be a "second level of defense in the name of the people and for the people, in the name of transparency."

Sen. Robinhood Padilla said he supports the grant of these intelligence funds, especially to Duterte’s office. "Davao can now be considered a safe zone, it has been cleared of those who we call terrorists," he said in Filipino as he credited the former mayor of Davao City for the security situation in Mindanao’s commercial and economic center.

Apart from Zubiri and Pimentel, the Senate designated Senate Majority Leader Joel Villanueva, finance committee chair Juan Edgardo Angara and public order committee chair Ronald “Bato” Dela Rosa as members of the select oversight committee.

RELATED: Kids' books about dictatorship, Martial Law spook Philippine intel chief

As a show of solidarity, all members of the Senate were designated co-authors of the resolution to form the oversight committee. It was passed with no objections or revisions.

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