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Opinion

Unaudited intel/confi funds: this is where our taxes go

GOTCHA - Jarius Bondoc - The Philippine Star

Congress shortcuts the definition of Executive intelligence/confidential funds. Intel expenses are what the agency chief itemizes then keeps in the vault. Confi expenses are what he fudges then submits to the agency auditor.

Either way, both escape Commission on Audit scrutiny, former commissioner Heidi Mendoza says. The constitutional rule of full transparency in government spending is violated. Still, Congress continues to grant such funds even to undeserving positions, Senate Minority Leader Koko Pimentel laments.

The P500 million for Vice President Sara Duterte for 2023 stands out. Her office has no intelligence or law enforcement functions. The VP is a spare tire to spring into action only if the President dies or is incapacitated, Pimentel explained Monday on Ted Failon and Czarina Guevarra’s radio show.

Duterte’s predecessor Leni Robredo had no intel/confi or extraordinary/miscellaneous funds for six years, 2016-2022. Taking over as VP midyear, Duterte operated with no such funds for the rest of 2022.

Duterte is to get another P30-million intel/confi budget as Secretary of Education. Senator Sonny Angara, finance committee chairman, beamed last week that he had slashed it to only a fifth of the P150 million that Sec. Duterte had sought for 2023.

No education chief has ever been granted such money. DepEd bureaucrats are untrained in intelligence and law enforcement. Duterte’s justification for such fund – to fight crimes and sex abuses against learners and teachers – is for the national police and NBI, Pimentel said. Immediate past education head Leonor Briones had no intel/confi funds. Inheriting Briones’ 2022 budget, Duterte made do with none too.

The Congress supermajority set precedents. Since it granted VP Duterte P500 million for next year, will that be given anew and even increase in 2024, 2025, 2026, 2027 and 2028? And since it gave Secretary Duterte another P30 million for 2023, will that extend yearly while she holds a Cabinet post? Senator Risa Hontiveros, the only other minority member in the 24-man chamber, asked those in last week’s budget debates.

If so, Duterte would have at least P3 billion to dispense at her discretion during her VP tenure. Plus, another P180 million as education chief.

The VP and DepEd Secretary’s intel/confi budgets have been hot issues for months. Acknowledging criticisms, Duterte said she will leave the final decision to legislators.

But she could have voluntarily given up those funds, Pimentel said. The Energy Regulatory Commission head did just that, while the Ombudsman slashed his from P51 million to P31 million.

Suspicion is that intel/confi funds might be used for partisan politics. Duterte party-mates bandy her to be the next president.

Could that be the reason for Congressional accommodation? Nearly all senators and congressmen are political dynasts. Six of the 24 senators are first-degree relatives; so are eight congressmen. The rest sit simultaneously or alternately in the legislature and local governments. Presidents sneak legislative pork barrels in national budgets. Members of the political class oblige each other to the exclusion of the little folk.

A VP’s monthly salary is P374,678. A DepEd secretary’s is P198,166. The State subsidizes the neediest families P4,000 a month and the neediest students P4,000 per semester. Taxes should benefit the people, not the privileged, the powerful and the rich.

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