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Use of intel funds to be scrutinized – Angara

Paolo Romero - The Philippine Star
Use of intel funds to be scrutinized â Angara
Senator Sonny Angara, held a meeting to discuss the proposed 2023 budget of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) and its attached corporation on October 13, 2022.
STAR / Mong Pintolo

MANILA, Philippines — Disbursements of confidential and intelligence funds (CIFs) granted to a number of government agencies and offices will be closely examined by Congress and the Commission on Audit (COA), Sen. Sonny Angara said yesterday.

Angara, who chairs the Senate committee of finance, said the scrutiny of CIFs is guaranteed by law, through the annual General Appropriations Act (GAA), the initiative of the Senate to conduct oversight and as part of the mandate of the COA.

“These are in place to ensure the proper use of these funds. There will be periodic meetings of the select oversight committee to assess whether these funds are being used wisely by the agencies involved,” he said.

The senator said for confidential fund recipient agencies and offices, they are required to submit quarterly accomplishment reports to both the President and the two Houses of Congress.

In the case of the intelligence funds, the quarterly reports are submitted to the President.

Senate Resolution 302, filed and sponsored by Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri, paves the way for the constitution of the Select Oversight Committee on Confidential and Intelligence Funds, which is tasked to look into how the funds were used.

The Senate and the House of Representatives on Monday ratified the 2023 General Appropriations Bill that kept intact CIFs totaling P9.3 billion that included P500 million and P150 million for the Office of the Vice President and the Department of Education.

He said the guidelines on the allocation, use and reporting on the CIFs are contained in Joint Circular 2015-01 issued by COA; Departments of Budget and Management, the Interior and Local Government, National Defense and the Governance Commission for GOCCs.

Angara said COA is still mandated to look into the use of the CIF but unlike their regular audits, the results are not made public. The same goes for the work of the Senate’s oversight committee, which the senator said has to be kept confidential because of the sensitivity of the issues being examined.

Under Joint Circular 2015-01, the CFs and IFs cannot be used to pay salaries and other benefits, representation or consultancy fees or for the construction/acquisition of buildings or houses.

The COA chairman has the power to conduct post audit of the liquidations of the disbursements made by the agencies.

NTF-ELCAC budget

Various groups have expressed concern over Congress’ decision to restore the P10-billion budget of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) and the P150-million confidential funds of the Department of Education (DepEd) next year.

“If anyone needs proof that Marcos’ avowals to the international community of respect for human rights is just mere rhetoric and lip service, this is it. Activists and critics should brace for more violations of their human rights and civil liberties,” Human Rights Watch (HRW) Asia division senior researcher Carlos Conde said.

Meanwhile, the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) called out Rep. Elizaldy Co, chair of the House appropriations committee, for defending the restoration of DepEd’s confidential fund “to secure the future of our children.”

“We are 150 million times more worried with the severity of the learning crisis which is impossible for us to surmount if our students have no proper classrooms, no armchairs and textbooks and our teachers hang by a thread due to overwork and low salaries,” ACT chairman Vladimir Quetua said on Tuesday.

“It is too ridiculous for the government to frighten us with possibility of our youth being recruited in ‘illegal organizations that seek to overthrow the government’ while they also say that armed rebellion has been decimated in the past years,” he added.

The Senate earlier agreed to reduce DepEd’s proposed confidential fund by P120 million and realign it to other education programs. The budget was restored during the bicameral conference committee to reconcile conflicting provisions of House and Senate versions of the proposed 2023 budget.

In an interview with One PH on Tuesday, DepEd spokesman Michael Poa expressed gratitude to lawmakers for supporting the agency’s proposed 2023 budget.

Asked about the restored confidential funds, he recalled the earlier statement of Vice President and education secretary Sara Duterte, who deferred to Congress the decision on whether to approve it or not.

Duterte earlier said the budget would be used for “intelligence and surveillance” to address issues such as sexual grooming of learners, recruitment of terrorist and extremist groups and drug use.

Specialty hospitals

The Congress-approved P5.268 trillion national budget for 2023 includes funds for the establishment, by way of expansion, of specialty hospitals built by the administration of the late president Marcos in the mid-70s and onwards, a senior administration lawmaker said yesterday.

Rep. Zaldy Co, chairman of the House of Representatives’ appropriations committee, disclosed this to reporters who covered Monday’s signing of the General Appropriations Bill by the bicameral conference committee, composed of senators and congressmen.

Also included in the plan is a 20-story specialty hospital in NCR to accommodate those from the provinces.

“Our hospitals, specifically our specialty hospitals, we’re going to build a bigger hospital of about 20 floors,” he said, referring to specialty hospitals all located in Quezon City, among them the Philippine Heart Center, Lung Center of the Philippines, National Kidney Transplant Institute, among others.

“So, you will see the promise of the President (ready to materialize),” said the Ako Bicol the party-list congressman who also heads the Party-list Coalition Foundation Inc., which has at least 54 members in the lower legislative chamber.

“We will build big hospitals all over the country, which will be good for social services,” Co remarked further. “Because our first-class hospitals here in Metro Manila cannot go to the provinces. So, we are going to fund it in a multi-year basis.”

Aside from putting up more health facilities amid the two-year global pandemic, senators and congressmen allotted more budget to the national government’s Libreng Sakay (free ride) program, public schools and universities and TESDA. – Janvic Mateo, Delon Porcalla

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