Judicious use of CIF sought

Delon Porcalla - The Philippine Star
Judicious use of CIF sought
Members of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan troop to the House of Representatives along Batasan Road in Quezon City on September 26, 2023 to demand the abolition of confidential funds in different government agencies.
Michael Varcas

MANILA, Philippines — In view of the public outcry for more transparency, the rules governing utilization of confidential and intelligence funds (CIFs) should be “tightened” to prevent politicians from wasting hard-earned taxpayers’ money, a militant lawmaker suggested over the weekend.

“We have to have an improvement, perhaps, on the joint circular with regard to the submission of documentary evidence of payment. Second: who are entitled to CIFs? We cannot just put there any other agency,” Rep. France Castro said, in reference to the Department of Budget and Management-Commission on Audit Joint Circular (DBM-COA JC) 2015-01, which provides guidelines on the entitlement, release, use, reporting and audit of CIFs.

“This is because they get these CIFs in cash, just like the P125 million of Vice President Sara Duterte. It is obligated in cash, and at the disposal of the head of the agency where it is issued,” the ACT Teachers party-list congresswoman told hosts of “The Chiefs” on TV5.

Speaking to the four veteran journalist-hosts, Castro – a member of the three-member Makabayan bloc in the House of Representatives – said they want to pass a bill where all expenses utilized by CIFs “should be accounted for and should not be kept secret.”

“As far as we are concerned, the JC seems wanting. We just hope that there will be a more definitive definition of CIFs, and on what kind of documents or papers are needed to be passed,” she said, revealing that only the leaders of both houses – Senate and House – have access to such.

Castro said she could not understand why Duterte, who is also the education secretary, declared that those opposing CIFs are anti-peace and are enemies of the state: “If you just want transparency, then how can you be an enemy of the state? I don’t know where she got that.”

The veteran opposition legislator nevertheless “partially” credited Speaker Martin Romualdez for stripping Duterte’s main office, along with the Department of Education (DepEd) that she concurrently heads, of CIFs amounting to a combined total of P650 million.

“About political will, yes we’re happy with the House leadership – partially. We had partial victory because people are now aware and Congress leadership acted on it by removing CIFs from agencies that don’t really need them,” she told The Chiefs.

“We’re saying its partial because we haven’t seen the black and white (documents) yet, even if the Speaker says they have removed them. The budget process is still a long way to go. Up to the last second in the bicam there are still negotiations. That’s where we are more concerned,” she said.

Another guest, Castro’s colleague Rep. Johnny Pimentel of Surigao del Sur, acknowledged the uproar, but refused to join the public anti-Duterte sentiment.

“We are in a democracy. Any person, whether he is the highest government official, can say his piece. And VP said her piece. Everyone is entitled to his/her own opinion. Let’s leave it at that. And let’s respect whatever it is that she said,” he said.

The Mindanao congressman, a former governor himself, clarified the House leadership saw the problem, which was why CIFs will now be transferred to law enforcement agencies that need them more, like the Philippine Coast Guard that regularly patrols the West Philippine Sea.

“This is why the leadership issued a statement to rebalance, recalibrate these CIFs. As you can see now, the budget process is working. We are reallocating, realigning these CIFs to agencies that protect our sovereignty, our national interest,” Pimentel maintained.

When asked about the need to enhance by way of “procedural reforms” DBM-COA JC 2015-01, the senior administration legislator replied candidly: “Well, it could be. The utilization is governed by the JC. I think it is these agencies who should issue or amend or change the joint memo circular.”

Confidential funds are expenses related to civilian government agencies’ surveillance activities to support their mandate or operations.

While Duterte sits as co-vice chairperson of the government’s controversial anti-insurgency task force, critics have been questioning why she had sought confidential funds to bankroll anti-insurgency programs instead of key projects of her offices that would have benefited the poor and the education system.

The Vice President has been facing backlash over confidential fund allocation and spending of her office (OVP), DepEd and Davao City when she was still mayor.

A budget hearing before the House of Representatives last month revealed that the OVP spent P125 million in confidential funds in 11 days last year.

This revelation derailed Duterte’s bid for a combined total of P650 million in confidential funds for the OVP and DepEd, as it prompted both the House and Senate to agree to the realignment of all confidential funds of civilian agencies to those involved in national security amid threats and aggressive acts by China over the West Philippine Sea.

People just want transparency

Duterte’s response to public scrutiny of her confidential funds has taken a convoluted turn, the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) said yesterday, stressing that “injustice and corrupt politicians are the real enemy of peace” and not critics.

ACT chairman Vladimer Quetua said Duterte’s insistence for higher confidential funds and her branding of critics as enemies of peace signifies her “twisted thinking.”

In a speech last week, Duterte defended the short time it took to spend the P125 million in OVP confidential funds last year, saying that it should not be an issue as long as her office spent it for national security and peace and order.

In response, ACT said that instead of lashing out against critics seeking transparency, she should focus on taking up the cudgels for the education sector, which is currently facing crises of its own.

“We repeatedly remind Secretary Duterte that her job is to lead and resolve the recurring problems of the basic education sector. In her more than a year in the position, not a single centavo was released from the agency’s Quick Reaction Fund, which is intended for the immediate repairs of classrooms and facilities damaged by typhoons,” Quetua said.

“As a result, the number of classrooms that need to be rehabilitated and repaired has already ballooned to more than 200,000. The learning crisis remains unsolved. Teachers remain underpaid, overworked and under-supported. As a secretary, she should be busy insisting on a higher budget for classrooms and facilities, hiring of new teachers, maintenance and other operating expenses of schools and for teachers’ salaries and benefits,” he added.

“How can the Filipino people have peace if their stomachs are empty? When we teachers report daily and give our full strength to our jobs, but still suffer and face problems that the government refuses to resolve?” he said.

“Can we really say it’s for peace when the squandering of public coffers is unpunished when millions of Filipinos are impoverished?” he added.

ACT reiterated its call for all confidential funds to be rechanneled to basic social services such as education amid the need for classrooms, learning materials, armchairs and teachers’ welfare.

It said DepEd and other agencies’ confidential funds could have been used to build 4,056 classrooms or repair 20,280 damaged ones. It could also procure 87,038 armchairs or 289,329 laptops for teachers.

“In addition, while it is important to address problems related to national security, especially against the ongoing foreign intrusion, we remind the DepEd secretary that it is not her job, and since it is not her job, she should stop further asking for confidential funds,” Quetua said.

“As a public official, VP Duterte should not stop people from asking for transparency, for she is expected to perform utmost transparency in all her actions and spending. She is not special,” he added.

Charge VP if there is evidence – Bato

If there is evidence that Duterte pocketed the confidential and intelligence funds, Sen. Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa challenged her critics to see her.

In an interview over dzBB yesterday, Dela Rosa said he does not see anything wrong with the way Duterte uses her CIFs, as evidenced by the satisfactory status of the peace and order in Davao City, where she served as mayor before she ran and won as VP.  

“I didn’t see anything wrong done, if I saw something, I would tell her (Duterte) ‘it was wrong, day’ (Cebuano endearment for female kin). Her desire is to prevent the youth from being recruited into the armed struggle of the CPP-NDF-NPA, all of us parents want our children to be well and not recruited to insurgency,” Dela Rosa noted, referring to acronyms of local communist groups.

The senator said he understood Duterte’s negative reactions to questions on her request and use of CIFs which is similar to accusing her of irregularities.

“Who wouldn’t be angry if the question is tantamount to accusing you of corruption and malpractices? It’s normal for that person to react that way. Let’s file charges if we have evidence that (CIF) was pocketed. Even though I am very close to VP – I’m like a brother – if there’s evidence, let’s file charges,” he said.

Dela Rosa reiterated his support for Duterte’s statement that those opposing her request for CIFs as “enemies of peace.”

“She has a point there. Who is trying to stop the CIF, the leftists, and those aligned with the left? Who will be hit with CIF? We know VP Sara will use the CIF against the left. She doesn’t want the youth to be recruited,” he said. — Neil Jayson Servallos, Cecille Suerte Felipe

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