Says issue over P500m for OVP, DepEd ‘divisive’
Vice President Sara Duterte on Thursday said her office would no longer pursue its request for P500 million in confidential funds in next year’s budget.
“We will no longer pursue the confidential funds. Why? Because this issue is divisive, and as the Vice President, I swore an oath to keep the country peaceful and strong,” Duterte said in a statement.
A similar statement was read during a Senate hearing on the budget of the Department of Education (DepEd), which Duterte also heads.
The House of Representatives last month said it would redistribute confidential and intelligence funds (CIF) originally allotted to civilian agencies such as the Office of the Vice President (OVP) and the DepEd to agencies that deal directly with national security issues such as the Philippine Coast Guard and the military.
At the time, Duterte branded those who opposed the P650 million in CIF for her agencies as “enemies of the state” and her father, former President Rodrigo Duterte threatened a lawmaker, ACT Teachers party-list Rep. France Castro, and branded her a communist.
But on Thursday, the OVP’s budget sponsor, Senate finance committee chairman Senator Juan Edgardo Angara, made the same announcement that the Vice President did during a budget deliberation.
Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel III commended the Vice President, but Castro said her latest statement would not erase the questions hounding her office.
“The only reason why the OVP issued such a statement is because the abuse of the confidential fund has been exposed to the public,” said Castro, who filed a criminal case of grave threats against the Vice President’s father, the former president.
Castro also questioned why Duterte’s statement did not include the DepEd in her statement.
She said Duterte should be clear about what she intends to do about the DepEd’s request for confidential funds.
Senator Pia Cayetano, however, said during a Senate deliberation on the DepEd’s budget that Duterte had also issued a statement that she would no longer seek confidential funds for this agency as well.
Castro, meanwhile, pressed for an explanation from the OVP on how the P125 million in confidential funds in 2022 were used.
“The OVP has not properly answered how and where its illegal P125 million confidential funds were used in 2022,” Castro said.
It was Castro who earlier said Duterte spent P125 million in confidential funds in the last days of December 2022, citing documents from the Department of Budget and Management and the OVP.
Similarly, Marikina City Rep. Stella Quimbo, senior vice chair of the House committee on appropriations, disclosed during budget deliberations at the House in September that the P125 million in confidential funds allocated to the OVP by the Office of the President (OP) was spent in 11 days, and not in 19, citing information from the Commission on Audit.
Zubiri defends OVP
Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri said the P500 million in confidential funds originally allotted to the OVP would not be reinstated, even though it could be in the bicameral conference committee.
He said Duterte’s statement made discussions of the fate of the fund in the bicameral conference committee moot and academic.
Without the confidential fund, the proposed budget of the OVP is P1.87 billion from the original P2.3 billion.
At the same time, Angara defended the OVP’s spending of P125 million in confidential funds in just 11 days in December last year, after Senator Risa Hontiveros raised the issue.
The OVP said the confidential fund was used for the safe implementation of their programs and activities like free rides, free medicines, opening of satellite offices, and distribution of school supplies and dental kits, he said.
Angara noted that the OVP’s programs and staff should be safe when going to areas infiltrated by insurgents like Surigao and the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.
“They entered isolated and disadvantaged areas. They also conducted a probe on reports that their assistance and forms were being sold in Bulacan,” Angara said.
Hontiveros, however, wanted to know how the OVP spent P11.3 million a day.
Again, Angara defended the office, saying that the 11 days were for the disbursement or actual use, while 19 days were for the obligation or entry of contracts or commitment to use the fund.
“Services performed or use of the fund goes beyond the 11 or 19 days.
This does not mean all services or all info will be given on those days. Meaning info could be given subsequent to the contracting or disbursing of the money,” Angara said.
OP budget sails through
Meanwhile, the Office of the President’s (OP’s) proposed national budget for 2024 of P10.645 billion, including P2.25 billion in confidential funds and P2.3 billion in intelligence funds, was submitted as declared, Zubiri said.
The plenary deliberation on the OP budget, which was witnessed by Executive Secretary Lucas Bersamin, lasted for less than an hour.
Pimentel said there was no issue about granting the OP confidential funds, even though it is a civilian office.
“My problem is with the intelligence expenses because our own governing document defined this as referring to those related to intelligence information gathering activities of uniformed and military personnel and intelligence practitioners that have a direct impact on national security. I have an issue here,” Pimentel said.
He has maintained that the OP is a civilian office and not a uniformed and military (office), composed of uniformed and military personnel, and even if it may have some of them, it should not be highlighted because the constitutional policy always highlights civilian supremacy over the military. I don’t think the OP is composed of intelligence practitioners.
But Angara asserted that the President is the generator and user of intelligence.
As commander in chief, he said the President needs to make very crucial decisions based on reliable information.
In other developments:
* The Senate committee on ethics and privileges chairperson Senator Nancy Binay said they will conduct a probe into the alleged leak of information from an executive session on Monday. Zubiri referred the issue to Binay’s committee, after some senators complained that they supported restoring the CIF of the OVP and the DepEd.
* Senator Ronald Dela Rosa, who was chief of the national police in the Duterte administration, defended his support for the confidential fund request of the OVP. He said the enemies of the state will benefit if the OVP is not given confidential funds.
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