Senate body to review secret funds of 30 agencies

Marc Jayson Cayabyab - The Philippine Star
Senate body to review secret funds of 30 agencies
Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri on September 6, 2023.
STAR / Mong Pintolo

MANILA, Philippines — The Senate vowed to scrutinize the use of confidential and intelligence funds of close to 30 government agencies and realign the allocation for better use to national defense and security, through its recently activated oversight committee on the secret funds.

The Select Oversight Committee on Intelligence and Confidential Funds, Programs and Activities will seek to institute reforms in the use of secret funds, intended for use by national security agencies but had been granted leeway to civilian departments, Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri, who leads the committee, said in a dwIZ interview yesterday.

“In our rules, it is stated that we can review the use of all intelligence and confidential funds. We can check if the funds were properly utilized, so that we can institute reforms in the grant of confidential and intelligence funds,” Zubiri said.

The oversight committee can also make recommendations on the guidelines in using the secret funds, Zubiri said, citing the joint circular of the Department of Budget and Management, Department of the Interior and Local Government, Department of National Defense, Governance Commission for GOCC (government-owned and controlled corporation) and the Commission on Audit.

In the joint circular, confidential expenses are allocated to civilian government agencies for their surveillance activities that support their mandate and operations.

Among the allowed expenses for secret funds are: purchase of information necessary for national security and peace and order; rental of transport vehicles on confidential activities; maintenance of safehouses; purchase or rental of equipment for confidential operations and payment of rewards to tipsters.

The joint circular also allows confidential funds to be used to “uncover/prevent illegal activities that pose a clear and present danger to agency personnel/property or other facilities and resources under the agency protection, done in coordination with the appropriate law enforcement agencies.”

“Confidential and intelligence funds do not undergo the regular audit procedure. We can review the guidelines to make sure these are clear and simplified. Its use should be limited in scope, not anything under the sun. The menu of allowable confidential expenses in the circular is so broad,” Zubiri said.

The Senate President said some confidential funds for civilian agencies can be put to better use if realigned to actual national defense and security agencies, such as the Philippine Coast Guard, which has a P10-million intelligence fund that has not been augmented since 2009.

He denied there is “political accommodation” in the executive’s grant of confidential funds in the National Expenditure Program. But he agreed that the Department of Education (DepEd)’s confidential funds can be better spent on more concrete programs to address insurgency, such as improving facilities in remote schools so that these do not get infiltrated by communist rebels.

The use of secret funds came under greater scrutiny following Vice President Sara Duterte’s request for P500-million confidential fund for her office, as well as P125 million for the DepEd, which she concurrently heads.

She received backlash after she admitted that the Office of the Vice President (OVP) requested P125 million in confidential funds in 2022 from the Office of the President’s contingent fund. Critics said the transfer was illegal because there is no line item in the OVP’s 2022 budget for confidential funds, and that confidential fund is not among the allowable expenses for contingent funds.

Duterte has justified her use of secret funds even for the DepEd to conduct surveillance in public schools suspected of being targets of communist recruitment.

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