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DepEd confi fund issue a ‘missed opportunity’ for Congress to show independence —Hontiveros

The 19th Congress “missed an opportunity to show its independence,” after the bicameral conference committee restored the controversial P150-million confidential and intelligence funds of the Department of Education (DepEd) under the proposed P5.268-trillion national budget for year 2023,  Senator Risa Hontiveros said Monday.

Hontiveros made the statement as she explained her “no” vote against the bicameral version of the 2023 General Appropriations Bill (GAB). Senate Minority Leader Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel likewise voted against it.

“Today, the 19th Congress missed an opportunity to show its independence. We failed to demonstrate that we do hold the power of the purse,” she told senators during the Plenary session.

“Tila naging mapurol at pudpud ang proteksyong binigay sa pondo ng bayan by granting in full all the requests for confidential and intelligence funds under the Marcos-Duterte administration. And worst, the legislature agreed to remove provisions that require congressional reporting of the utilization plan and disbursement of the confidential and intelligence fund,” she said.

Under the Senate version of the proposed national budget, at least P152 million worth of confidential funds of various government agencies were realigned to their maintenance and other operating expenses (MOOE) in the 2023 national budget.

It included DepEd’s P100 million CIF, which senators realigned to be used in the education department’s Health Learners Institution Program.

However, the bicameral version of the budget bill showed the DepEd’s CIF was restored to its initial amount of P150 million.

Senator Sonny Angara, chairperson of the Senate Finance Committee, explained he tried to convince their House counterparts to adopt their version but the House was “adamant” on returning the CIF fund being sought by the DepEd.

“We tried to convince our counterparts to adopt our version but the House was adamant that they wanted to return the amount to DepEd as originally envisioned in the NEP (National Expenditure Program),” Angara told Pimentel during his interpellation on the bicameral committee report.

Hontiveros, for her part, also said the safeguard provisions on the use of the CIF were also removed.

“In the absence of such provisions, in spite of the Select Oversight Committee on Confidential and Intelligence Funds, how can we be expected to exercise checks and balances? At kung hindi natin makumbinsi ang mga kasamahan sa House sa napagkaisahan natin sa Senado, how can we ensure transparency and accountability?” she said.

“Nakakapanghinayang po na sa unang budget ng administrasyon, Congress has shown its malleability to the whims of the administration and has squandered an opportunity offered by the Senate for more transparency and accountability and less opportunities for corruption,” she added.

The legislator warned the reinstatement of the budget item will set a “precedent for improper budget requests leading up to the elections in 2028,” saying Congress has “effectively” abdicated its power of the purse to “holders of civilian offices and Departments in the executive.”

Both the Senate and House of Representatives on Monday ratified the bicam version of the 2023 GAB after they reconciled the disagreeing provisions on the budget bill earlier in the day.

Apart from the DepED’s CIF, also restored in the bicam version of the GAB is the P10 billion budget of the NTF-ELCAC. — BM, GMA Integrated News