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Lagman on confidential funds for OVP: Invalid but not impeachable offense

Opposition lawmaker Edcel Lagman said on Wednesday that the transfer of P125 million from the Office of the President for Vice President Sara Duterte's confidential funds last year violated guidelines but was not an impeachable offense.

“Let other people think about that, but to my mind, it might not be an extreme case of culpable violation of the Constitution,” the Albay congressman replied when asked if the transfer was invalid but not an impeachable offense.

“I don’t think it's culpable [violation of the Constitution] exactly. Maybe there was only a mistake in the interpretation of the pertinent regulations. Culpable means extreme guilt,” Lagman added.

Culpable violation of the Constitution is one of the grounds for impeachment under the 1987 Constitution. The president and vice president are impeachable officials. 

Lagman and House Deputy Minority Leader France Castro earlier said the transfer of funds violated Article 6, Section 25.5 of the Constitution, which states that "no law shall be passed authorizing any transfer of appropriations; however, the President, the President of the Senate, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and the heads of constitutional commissions may, by law, be authorized to augment any item in the general appropriations law for their respective offices from savings in other items of their respective appropriations."

They also cited Section 85 of the general provision of the 2022 national budget, which provides that the use of confidential funds should be governed by the 2015 joint circular issued by the Commission on Audit, Department of Budget and Management, Department of the Interior and Local Government, Department of National Defense, and the Governance Commission for Government-Owned and Controlled Corporations on confidential funds.

Under the joint circular, confidential funds can be granted to national government agencies that expressly provide budget allocations for confidential funds under the national budget law or other laws. 

“You cannot unload funds from the President’s contingent fund for a release in the nature of a confidential fund when there is no confidential fund in the first place. It (transfer) is flawed; it is invalid, but it may not be a basis to say [it was a] culpable violation of the Constitution. There is no confidential fund in 2022 [provided under the national budget]. Contingent funds cannot be used for confidential funds,” Lagman said.

“The contingent fund cannot be given to an agency as confidential funds when such agency has not been allocated any confidential funds in the 2022 GAA (General Appropriations Act). Otherwise, this would derogate the clear intention of the Congress not to allocate confidential funds to the Office of the Vice President, which, in the first place, was not requested by then-Vice President Leni Robredo,” he added. 

Earlier this month, the Office of the Executive Secretary said President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. was authorized to approve releases to cover funding requirements for new or urgent activities of national government agencies, among others, that need to be implemented during the year.

"VP Sara, who was newly elected then, needed funds for her new programs for the remaining period of 2022. The President supported this initiative and released the funds, with the favorable recommendation of DBM (Department of Budget and Management)," it added.

Duterte had said that her office had requested confidential funds in August 2022 and received them in December of that year. — VBL, GMA Integrated News