House strips Sara of confidential fund

Delon Porcalla, Elizabeth Marcelo - The Philippine Star
House strips Sara of confidential fund
Vice President Sara Duterte-Carpio gives the keynote address during the "Tribute to soldiers" awards ceremony at The Manila Hotel, Rizal Park, Ermita in Manila on Aug. 28, 2023.
Inday Sara Duterte / Facebook

MANILA, Philippines — Vice President Sara Duterte and the Department of Education (DepEd) which she heads will not have confidential funds next year as lawmakers decided to realign the amount – totaling P650 million – in the 2024 national budget that the House of Representatives approved in record speed yesterday.

The House appropriations committee declared late Wednesday that confidential funds sought by the Office of the Vice President and the DepEd have been realigned to agencies involved in intelligence work.

“As discussed, we will realign the confidential funds of various civilian agencies. Now is the time to give our intelligence community the means to perform their duties, especially in these pressing times when we’re facing serious concerns in the West Philippine Sea,” committee chairman Rep. Zaldy Co said.

Duterte enjoyed large confidential funds – reaching up to P460 million a year – even during her stint as Davao City mayor, based on reports of the Commission on Audit (COA).

“The country’s safety and security are of paramount importance. To protect our territorial integrity from external threats, Congress is giving top priority to agencies directly in charge protecting the country’s safety and securing its borders,” the Ako Bicol party-list lawmaker added.

This was in line, he said, with the “unanimous decision” of all party heads in the House under the leadership of Speaker Martin Romualdez – to augment funding for the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency, National Security Council, Philippine Coast Guard and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources.

“The CIFs from other departments and agencies will be realigned to the NSA, NICA, PCG and BFAR to boost the country’s monitoring and operational capabilities in protecting our territorial waters and securing the rights and access of Filipino fishermen to their traditional fishing grounds,” he said.

“So far that’s what we have identified, but we’re still looking at other sources,” he said, referring to the CIFs Duterte had pushed for the OVP and DepEd. “The House leadership will exercise its mandate with care and determination to ensure that public funds are used properly and where the money is needed most for the good of the country.”

Old privilege

A review, meanwhile, of COA’s annual audit reports (AARs) on Davao City government from 2016 to 2022 showed that it has been incurring confidential expenses amounting to hundreds of million pesos from the time Duterte succeeded her father, former president Rodrigo Duterte, as local chief executive after the May 9, 2016 elections.

The AARs showed that Davao City government’s confidential expenses grew to P293 million in 2017 during the first full term of the younger Duterte as mayor, from P144 million in 2016.

Duterte officially assumed office as Davao City mayor on June 30, 2016. The city’s confidential expenses ballooned to P420 million in 2018, then to P460 million yearly from 2019 to 2022.

Duterte was succeeded by her brother Sebastian as Davao City mayor after the May 9, 2022 elections.

The AARs on local government units (LGUs) and national government agencies can be downloaded from the COA website.

The Davao City’s confidential expenses were included in the breakdown of its annual Maintenance and Other Operating Expenses. The MOOE breakdown can be found under the Notes to Financial Statement section of COA’s AARs.

It was not stated in the audit reports where exactly under the Davao City government’s funds its confidential expenses were sourced from.

Duterte is currently in hot water after it was revealed – also through the COA’s AAR –  that the OVP incurred P125 million in confidential expenses in 2022, from zero confidential expenses in 2021 during the last full term of her predecessor, Leni Robredo.

The COA said the OVP’s confidential expenses “pertain to the expenses for the safe implementation of various projects and activities under the Good Governance Program and the conduct of official engagements, and functional representation in international and domestic events as instructed by the President.”

No CIF in 2022 budget

The revelation in the audit report became controversial as the OVP had no confidential and intelligence fund (CIF) allocation under Republic Act 11639 or the 2022 General Appropriations Act (GAA).

It was later revealed that the P125 million fund came from the Office of the President (OP), after Duterte wrote a letter dated Aug. 22, 2022 to the Department of Budget and Management, asking for a total of P403.46-million budget augmentation supposedly to “ensure continuous operations of the OVP under the current year.”

In her letter, Duterte requested for P250 million in confidential funds, saying that the OVP is “committed to formulate programs, projects and activities relevant to national security and peace and order.”

While the OP only transferred P125 million in CF to the OVP, several incumbent and former lawmakers, including Sen. Risa Hontiveros, former Senate president Franklin Drilon and Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman slammed the budget augmentation as unconstitutional, as there was no allocation for such fund for the OVP under the 2022 GAA.

Lagman, leader of the opposition Liberal Party, said that transfer of funds from the OP to another office like the OVP was prohibited under Article 6, Section 25(5) of the 1987 Constitution.

He said the Constitution also provides that the transfer of funds for augmentation must come from savings of the source office.

“Transfer for augmentation must be from savings of the office concerned. It was admitted that in the President’s contingent fund, the savings in 2022 was only P50 million but the release to the OVP was P125 million,” Lagman said.

“In other words, it was not from savings. Moreover, the OP, through its sponsor, repeatedly said that the release of the amount was not from savings,” he added.

It was also revealed during the budget hearings at the House of Representatives that the OVP spent the P125 million CF it received from the OP in just 19 days or from Dec. 13 to 31, which translates to about P6.5 million per day. – Elizabeth Marcelo

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