EDITORIAL - No carte blanche

The Philippine Star
EDITORIAL - No carte blanche

In just 11 days – not 19 as initially reported – in December last year, the Office of the Vice President spent P125 million in confidential funds, according to official records of the Commission on Audit. That’s over P11.36 million a day in people’s money, whose utilization is not supposed to be obfuscated or concealed from the public.

Executive Secretary Lucas Bersamin had said the P125 million was for new satellite offices of the OVP. Vice President Sara Duterte herself has issued blanket denials of allegations that the funds were used inappropriately, and lambasted critics seeking a more detailed explanation, including why confidential funds are needed to set up OVP satellite offices.

Bersamin entered the fray because the P125 million was not in the original appropriation for 2022 that Congress had approved for the OVP, based on the expenditure proposal of former vice president Leni Robredo, which did not include any appropriation for confidential funds. Instead, when the new administration came into power, the P125 million was released to the OVP under Duterte from the national contingent funds with the approval of the Office of the President.

The COA report was disclosed by the commission’s budget sponsor in the House of Representatives, Marikina Rep. Stella Quimbo, who previously explained that the fund transfer was covered by the line item on good governance program in the 2022 budget. Quimbo is the senior vice chair of the House appropriations committee, which last month ended its deliberations on the OVP’s proposed budget after just over 20 minutes, without asking the Vice President a single question. The termination was approved upon the motion of President Marcos’ son, Senior Deputy Majority Leader Sandro Marcos, who invoked “parliamentary courtesy.”

For 2024, Duterte is asking Congress for even larger confidential funds: P500 million for the OVP and P150 million for the Department of Education, which she heads. Confidential and intelligence funds are also reviewed by state auditors, but the rules on scrutiny are much more relaxed. Congress is supposed to exercise oversight over CIF, but the House has shown that “parliamentary courtesy” trumps this role.

The idea that a public official enjoys carte blanche in the utilization of public funds is disturbing and a threat to good governance. Before the mindset becomes entrenched, it must be nipped in the bud. Unfortunately for taxpayers, the political will for this appears to be absent.

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