FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno - The Philippine Star

Leaders of every political party composing the supermajority at the House of Representatives signed a declaration realigning confidential and intelligence funds requested by civilian agencies. The funds would now be transferred to the main security agencies and those engaged in protecting the national interest at the West Philippine Sea.

This was a masterstroke.

It allowed our legislators to ease away from the indefensible requests of some agencies and transfer those funds to the incontestable goal of defending our territorial seas. Our legislators found convenient sanctuary.

The matter of the confidential funds, specifically those to be allocated to the Office of the Vice President, was heaven-sent for the tiny opposition that heretofore ran out of issues to throw against the administration. It allowed them an abundance of talk time – and possibly a case for misappropriation of public funds.

Everything about confidential funds is questionable. These funds frequently serve as some sort of pork barrel for agencies in the executive branch. They enable heads of agencies to reinforce pet programs and pay for services not specified in their regular budget items. That gives them a lot of flexibility – often at the expense of transparency.

When Vice President Sara Duterte requested for confidential funds last year, the request could not be denied – even if the funds were eventually transferred at the very last days of the spending year. When she requested for more confidential funds in next year’s budget, majority legislators raised no objection.

Sara, after all, is a political force by her lonesome. She is not only Vice President. In all probability, she could be the next president. She is never shy about using the formal powers and informal influence she possesses. For all the political players, prudence dictates that they stand on her good side.

The controversy over her request for more confidential funds, however, ballooned inconveniently. On this matter, Sara found herself on the wrong side of public opinion. The opposition was prepared to milk this issue for whatever political gain this might yield.

When several heads of agencies renounced their confidential fund allotments, Sara’s request simply became politically untenable. It became, to put it lightly, political hot potato.

Despite lopsided public opinion, majority legislators were hesitant to displease Sara or make her lose face by withdrawing only her confidential funds. Everyone else who did not have a frontline role in defending the West Philippine Sea would have to lose their confidential fund allotments.

No one could argue against allotting more funds to defend our seas. In the light of recent provocations by China, adding funds to our Navy and Coast Guard becomes a matter of patriotic duty.

All the politicians in Congress are smart enough to know how to finesse this prickly issue.

Constitutional crisis

President Bongbong Marcos has another hot potato on his hands.

When Maguindanao was split into two provinces, the President appointed Adulraof Macacua (alias Sammy Gambar) as acting governor of Maguindanao del Norte. Macacua served as chief of staff of the MILF. The group has its largest encampments in Maguindanao del Norte.

Recently, the Supreme Court declared Fatima Ainee Sinsuat as the legitimate acting governor of the new province until the next regular elections. She was elected vice governor of the old province of Maguindanao. The Court puts preference on the electoral mandate, saying that the appointment of Macacua goes against the intent of Congress and the sovereign will of the people of Maguindanao del Norte.

Macacua recently joined the President’s Partido Federal and was sworn in at the Palace. This happened despite the Supreme Court’s decision upholding Sinsuat as the legitimate acting governor.

The appointment of Macacua  complicates the effort of the national government to decommission all the firearms held by the MILF. These firearms were accumulated during the long period when the group waged a secessionist war against the national government. Most of the remaining firearms are in the new province for which the chief of staff of the MILF was appointed acting governor.

Recently, the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) requested the national government to speed up the decommissioning process. This is to ensure peace and stability in the autonomous region.

Recently, too, governors of the BARMM provinces held a caucus to discuss common concerns. Macacua was not invited to the caucus.

Strangely, Congress, which crafted the law that created two provinces out of the former Maguindanao, has said nothing about the incongruity of a new province having two governors. The most obvious reason for the silence is deference to the President.

There is nothing in the law splitting Maguindanao that says the President would appoint the acting governor. It was precisely that omission in the law that created the confusion that the Supreme Court ruling seeks to clarify.

It is incumbent upon Congress to explicitly state its intent in splitting the province. Its silence on the matter of two contesting governors magnifies the omission.

Most important, President Marcos himself has said nothing about the issue – although he swore in his appointee as a member of Partido Federal. He is obviously reluctant to withdraw his appointment and honor the Supreme Court decision. But this will only serve to set the two branches of government on a collision course.

The Supreme Court, having argued strongly for the primacy of electoral mandate, is not about to reverse its recent decision. The inaction of the Congress and the Presidency is anomalous.

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