The House of Representatives will realign the confidential and intelligence funds of the Office of the Vice President, the Department of Education, and other civilian agencies to augment the budgets of intelligence and security forces, the chairman of the House Committee on Appropriations has said.
In a statement on Wednesday, committee chairman Ako Bicol Rep. Zaldy Co said the recipients of the realigned allocations would be those tasked to address escalating threats in the West Philippine Sea.
“The country’s safety and security are of paramount importance," Co said.
"To protect our territorial integrity from external threats, Congress is giving top priority to agencies directly in charge protecting the country’s safety and securing its borders,” he added.
Co said the OVP and DepEd which have a combined P650 million in proposed confidential funds in the 2024 national budget were among the agencies which would be affected by the realignment.
Vice President Sara Duterte, who is also the secretary of education, has appeared before the House deliberations on the OVP's proposed P2.3-billion allocation and the DepEd's proposed P758-billion outlay.
“So far that’s what we have identified, but we’re still looking at other sources,” Co said.
Co said the House would augment funding for the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (NICA), the National Security Council (NSC), Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR).
The House’s action came after the Philippine Coast Guard reported that the Chinese Coast Guard installed a floating barrier in Bajo de Masinloc or Scarborough shoal off the coast of Zambales, a common fishing ground.
“As discussed, we will realign the confidential funds of various civilian agencies. Now is the time to give our intelligence community the means to perform their duties, especially in these pressing times when we’re facing serious concerns in the West Philippine Sea,” Co said.
“The CIFs from other departments and agencies will be realigned to the NSA, NICA, PCG and BFAR to boost the country’s monitoring and operational capabilities in protecting our territorial waters and securing the rights and access of Filipino fishermen to their traditional fishing grounds,” he added.
Earlier in the day, the heads of the major political parties in the House have agreed to reallocate CIF to agencies in charge of intelligence and surveillance activities amid the recent events in the West Philippine Sea.
"Recognizing the rising security threats in the West Philippine Sea and the need to secure top officials, these agencies are better positioned to counteract security threats, protect our territorial waters, and secure the rights and access of Filipino fishermen to traditional fishing grounds," the lawmakers said.
They said the decision to reallocate the CIF showed "the need to ensure that resource allocation aligns with national priorities and the urgent needs of the citizenry."
Among those who signed the joint statement were Representatives Michael John Duavit (1st District, Rizal), Johnny Pimentel (2nd District, Surigao del Sur), Eleandro Mendoza (Romblon), Jose Aquino (1st District, Agusan del Norte), Angelica Co (BHW party-list) and LRay Villafuerte (2nd District, Camarines Sur).
Senate follows suit
At the Senate, Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri said they also intend to reallocate unnecessary funds in certain agencies to the intelligence agencies, the PCG, and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).
"We have agreed in the Senate to do the same. We also will [be] reallocating funds that we feel are not necessary for the use of certain agencies and allocate them to our Intelligence Community as well as our Coast guard and AFP," Zubiri said in a Viber message to reporters on Wednesday.
Asked if the confidential funds lodged under the Office of the Vice President (OVP) and the Department of Education (DepEd) will be included, Zubiri said, “We shall review all agencies.”
Total confidential and intelligence funds proposed for 2024 total P10.142 billion, according to documents from the Department of Budget and Management (DBM). It is higher by P120 million than the P10.02 billion set aside for the CIF in 2023. —NB, GMA Integrated News