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Martires challenged to follow DFA, DMW’s rejection of confidential funds for 2024

Senate Minority Leader Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III on Wednesday challenged Ombudsman Samuel Martires to follow the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) and the Department of Migrant Workers (DMW) in rejecting millions worth of confidential funds for 2024.

The minority chief made the challenge after Martires reiterated that he was amenable to the deletion of the P51 million confidential funds allocated for the anti-graft body under the proposed 2024 national budget if “it will only taint the reputation of the office and of the Ombudsman and its officers.”

“Siguro, in this compromise, you can let go and be the example. Meron nang nag-example. Kahapon si DFA eh gusto bigyan ng isang senador ng confidential funds. Sabi ko pwede mo tanggihan, tinanggihan nila,” Pimentel noted during the Senate finance committee hearing on the proposed budget of the Office of the Ombudsman.

(The DFA has become an example. Yesterday, one senator wants DFA to be given confidential funds. I said the DFA can refuse it and it did.)

“Isa pa pala, dalawa na si DMW in memory of [late former] Secretary Toots Ople because ang sabi nung [officer-in-charge] nila, if she were alive today and she would be offered the confidential funds, she would have rejected it anyway. So maybe the Ombudsman can be the third agency,” he added.

(Another agency that rejected it is DMW in memory of Secretary Toots Ople. Their OIC said,  if she were alive today and she would be offered the confidential funds, she would have rejected it anyway. So maybe the Ombudsman can be the third agency.)

In response, Martires said they wanted to be the first investigating agency that will reject the confidential funds.

“On the matter of confidential funds, I’d like to be the first from the investigating agencies to request Congress--that if it will, as I have been saying, it will only taint the reputation, the integrity of the office, as well as of the Ombudsman and its officers-- they'll not have confidential funds during my term of office… I think we can survive without the confidential funds,” the Ombudsman said.

While Pimentel said the Office of the Ombudsman is not yet “tainted” because of the allocation of confidential funds, the minority chief told Martires to do a “symbolic act” and reject the said funds so other agencies will follow suit.

“Ang gusto ko symbolic act eh. If it’s now the Ombudsman saying, susunod na ‘yung iba eh… that’s what I predict. I'm more after, not because it’s tainting your office kasi  wala naman talagang taint sa office ninyo, pero that act because it’s becoming a very hot issue right now,” he said.

(I want this to be a symbolic act. If it's now the Ombudsman who is saying they can reject the confidential funds, other agencies will follow suit. That's what I predict. Not because it's tainiting your office, because there was no taint on your office, but that act will be symbolic because it's becoming a very hot issue right now.)

“The Office of the Ombudsman takes the lead. Sabihin niya (he said) ‘We can live without that, alisin na ‘yan,’ then I will now challenge the other agencies who are not involved in enforcement of penal laws, who are not involved in securing national security, forget about CIF and focus on your main mandate,” the minority leader went on.

Martires reiterated his position and said if agencies “rely only on…confidential and intelligence fund…to be able to investigate, you will not be able to function properly.”

Asked by Senator Sonny Angara, who presided over the hearing as chairman of the Senate panel, if this will not affect the functions of the Ombudsman, Martires vouched for the capability of his office and said that he can get intelligence even over a cup of coffee.

“I can always smile at my friends and probably treat them for over a cup of coffee. We can do that for us… Nakukuha lahat ito sa pangiti-ngiti sa kape, ‘di ba, sa mga PR, PR? Ganun lang naman ‘yan eh hindi naman kailangan gastusan lahat ng pera,” he said.

(We can make it possible by smiling over a cup of coffee or through public relations. Not everything needs funds for you to be able to do your job.)

“Honestly, there are some intel officers na kapag binigyan mo ng pang-meryenda, kung minsan they refuse. Marami sa kanila, marami mga intel officers…who would even refuse na pipilitin mo kasi they really have to spend especially for transportation,” he added.

(Honestly, there are some intel officers who refuse money for snacks. There are many intel officers who refuse money for transportation.)

In ending his interpellation, Pimentel said the ball is now in the Ombudsman’s court to reject the confidential funds lodged under their agency.

“Just inspire all of them that it can be done without that CIF, Mr. Ombudsman,” he said.

After Pimentel, the Senate finance committee approved the proposed P5.05 billion budget of the anti-graft body for fiscal year 2024.

In an interview with reporters, Martires said he was surprised that the issue became controversial due to the requests of many civilian agencies.

“Naging controversial. Ngayon lang ako nagulat na marami palang ahensya na tumatanggap ng confidential funds or humihingi na wala namang investigative powers o walang function ng investigation,” he said.

(It has become controversial. I was surprised that there were many agencies that received or requested confidential funds even if they have no investigative powers or they have no function to investigate.)

“Alam mo, sa akin, isipin na lang natin maraming taong naghihirap. Let’s just do our work. Gawin natin ang trabaho natin sa abot ng ating makakaya, ‘di ba, without relying on funds that [are] given to us  by Congress. Kung anong gawain natin mag-focus tayo sa gawain natin. Kung ang gawain mo magdasal, magdasal ka. Bakit ka mag-iimbestiga?” he asked.

(For me, let’s put in mind that a lot of people are suffering. Let’s just do our best in performing our jobs without relying on funds that were given to us by Congress. Let’s focus on our mandate. If your mandate is to pray, then pray. Why are you going to investigate?)

Martires also said the Office of the Ombudsman can conduct motu proprio investigation on the use of confidential funds of government agencies, including the Office of the Vice President, because it is part of its mandate.

“Motu proprio investigation is a mandate given to us by law,” he said.

Asked if they will include the OVP, he said “Bakit hindi kung mayroong mga anomalya (Why not if there are anomalies)?”

Should they investigate the OVP, Martires said they will probe the office and not the government official.

“Kung minsan, mga impeachable officers ‘yan. Just the office, not the officer, not the government official but we can always conduct motu proprio investigation kahit anong opisina,” he said.

(These are impeachable officers. So we will investigate the office and not the officer or the government official. But we can always conduct motu proprio investigation on any government office.)—AOL, GMA Integrated News