Stella Quimbo bares OVP's P125M confidential funds spent in just 11 days

Cristina Chi - Philstar.com

MANILA, Philippines (Updated September 25, 2:52 p.m.) — The Office of the Vice President spent its P125 million confidential funds in just 11 days — even shorter than the 19 days initially detailed by Makabayan lawmakers, Rep. Stella Quimbo (Marikina) revealed during budget plenary debates at the House of Representatives. 

Vice President Sara Duterte has repeatedly refused to detail how her office spent the secret funds she obtained in 2022 from the Office of the President, relying instead on statements name-calling her critics and on her allies — including Quimbo — to insist there was nothing improper in the expenditure.

During the lower chamber’s plenary debates for the proposed 2024 budget on Monday, Quimbo said that she was also “surprised” to read in news articles that the P125 lump sum was spent in just 19 days. 

But it was actually spent in just 11 days based on the Commission on Audit (COA) records, Quimbo said.

“The truth is, I was also surprised when I read the news that it seemed to have been spent in 19 days. I asked COA and looked at various reports, but it was not spent in 19 days but in 11 days,” Quimbo said in a mix of English and Filipino.

Quimbo was responding to a question by Rep. Arlene Brosas (Gabriela Women’s Party), who asked whether the COA can confirm if the P125 million fund was spent in just 19 days. 

The lawmaker answered on behalf of COA because she sponsored the budget proposal of the agency in the plenary, as practiced in House procedures.

After Quimbo’s response, Brosas turned to fellow Makabayan bloc lawmaker Rep. France Castro (ACT Teacher) in shock and clarified with Quimbo whether the figure was correct.

“If that's surveillance, how many reward payments would that be, reaching 11 million per day? So, 11 days? Just confirming - 11 days?” Brosas said. Quimbo nodded in response. 

Quimbo also said that COA is set to release its preliminary audit findings on the OVP's P125 million in confidential funds on November 15 after the OVP submitted its liquidation report 10 months ago or in January. 

The lawmaker also called for the creation of a special oversight committee for confidential and intelligence funds in the lower chamber to scrutinize how the lump funds are spent.

COA transparency sought

“We are asking this because there should be transparency in the spending or utilization of public funds. That is also the mandate of the COA - to report that public funds have been spent properly,” Brosas said in Filipino.

In the 2022 General Appropriations Act, the OVP did not originally have a budget allocation for confidential expenses. However, a redacted transparency report from COA in 2023 revealed that the OVP had obtained a P125-million allocation for confidential expenses for that year.

This led lawmakers from the Makabayan bloc to describe the sudden appearance of the fund as “magic," alleging that there were irregularities in how the OVP acquired this lump sum, as confidential funds are typically included through the general appropriations process.

Makabayan lawmakers also previously said that the OVP spent the P125 million fund in just 19 days based on OVP documents uploaded online. Specifically, Castro said that the documents show the funds obtained were obtained on December 13 and reported fully disbursed on Dec. 31, 2022.  

However, the OVP’s budget proposal was saved from scrutiny in August when the House appropriations panel, of which Quimbo co-chairs, moved to terminate the deliberations in less than 15 minutes out of “parliamentary courtesy” to Duterte.

Quimbo last week defended the OVP’s use of confidential funds, saying that there was nothing “improper” with the OP’s transfer of funds as this was allowed through the use of the contingent fund.

Sen. Risa Hontiveros has also criticized Quimbo and other officials’ explanations due to the changing technical terms being used to justify the fund transfer, saying that if it was “above board,” there would only be a single, straightforward answer.

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