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House strips OVP, four other agencies of confidential funds

The House of Representatives has removed P1.23 billion worth of confidential funds of five agencies, including the Office of the Vice President (OVP) and the Department of Education (DepEd), under the proposed P5.768-trillion budget for 2024.

House Committee on Appropriations senior vice chairperson Stella Quimbo said this happened after the House small panel agreed to reallocate P194 billion from the proposed 2024 national budget for 2024 — including the P1.23 billion of confidential fund — to other government budget items that address the rising cost of commodities, seek to develop and protect the West Philippine Sea, and are subject to auditing procedures.

“Our panel introduced P194 billion worth of institutional amendments. The main goal was to rationalize the allocation of resources to fight inflation, invest in human capital and in our country’s future,” Quimbo said at a press briefing.

“We believe that the House of Representatives is on the right side of history,” she added.

Aside from OVP and DepEd, other agencies which lost their confidential fund allocation under the House’s proposed amendments are Department of Agriculture, Department of Information and Communications Technology, and Department of Foreign Affairs.

As a result, the P1.23 billion will go to the following agencies:

  • P300 million to the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency;
  • P100 million to the National Security Council;
  • P200 million to the Philippine Coast Guard for intelligence activities and ammunition; and
  • P381.8 million to the Department of Transportation (DOTr) for airport development/expansion of Pag-asa Island Airport

DepEd is headed by Vice President Sara Duterte while the DA is concurrently being led by President Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr.

Duterte earlier defended the OVP and DepEd's use of confidential funds, saying that those against such allocation are “naturally assumed to have insidious motivations.”

“Anyone who attacks or undermines funds allocated for peace and order is naturally assumed to have insidious motivations. Such actions go against the protection and well-being of the citizenry. Those who seek to compromise the security and development of our nation jeopardize the very fabric of our society and hinder our progress,” she said in a speech last week.

GMA News Online has reached out to the OVP and DepEd regarding the removal of their confidential funds, but they have yet to respond as of posting time.

Quimbo, however, was firm that the House's decision was sound and ensures that government agencies will be able to perform their mandate with sufficient funding support.

“In doing this, we considered, what is the mandate of the agency? If they can do their mandate without performing surveillance [activities] and they could instead use their MOOE (Maintenance and Other Operating Expenses) which is auditable, we prefer that kind of spending,” she said.

Quimbo said part of the P1.2-billion confidential fund of the OVP, DepEd, DA, DFA and the DICT have also been realigned to their MOOE as follows:

  • P30 million for the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR)
  • P25 million for DICT
  • P30 million for DFA
  • P50 million for the Office of the Ombudsman and
  • P150-million for DepEd’s Government Assistance to Students and Teachers in Private Education

In the case of Ombudsman Samuel Martires, Quimbo said the former Supreme Court justice wrote to the House to request for the realignment of his office’s P50 million confidential fund to the Ombudsman’s MOOE.

Of the proposed P5.768-trillion budget for 2024, P10 billion are allocated for confidential and intelligence fund across all agencies.

Quimbo said that the entire P10 billion confidential and intelligence funds cannot be removed altogether given that there are agencies whose mandates include surveillance, which is paid for by confidential and intelligence funds.

“There are government agencies, like the Justice department, who need confidential funds to perform their mandate. Confidential funds are for surveillance activities, which are being done by the Justice department and the Bureau of Customs, among other agencies. They need funding for surveillance activities,” she said.

Quimbo said the House’s move should serve as a clear message to the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) on what parameters should be met for an agency to be allocated confidential funds.

“I would say that DBM would be more circumspect in granting confidential funds to agencies after this,” she said.

House Committee on Appropriations panel chairman Elizady Co, for his part, expressed confidence that their Senate colleagues will agree with the House’s proposed amendments to the proposed 2024 budget.

“I have heard them saying we will follow our colleagues [in pushing for such amendments], and I also heard that they had an executive committee meeting [on the issue],” Co said.

“I think it is already a done deal,” he added.

Other proposed realignments made by the House include:

  • P43.9 billion for DOH for Medical Assistance to Indigent Patients (MAIP); legacy and specialty hospitals; cancer assistance; communicable diseases program; and health facility enhancement;
  • P1 billion for UP-Philippine General Hospital, specifically for MAIP
  • P35 billion for the Department of Social Welfare and Development’s (DSWD)’s Assistance to Individuals in Crisis Situations (AICS) and Sustainable Livelihood Programs
  • P17.5 billion to the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) for the TUPAD program or Tulong Panghanapbuhay sa ating Disadvantage/Displaced Workers/ Government Internship Program;
  • P10.4 billion for the DOLE-Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) Training for Work Scholarship Program;
  • P17.1 billion for the Commission on Higher Education’s (CHED) Tertiary Education Subsidy and Tulong Dunong Program.

Quimbo said that other than the P1.2 confidential funds of five agencies, the rest of the P193 billion realigned funds were sourced from budget items that the concerned agency is having a hard time implementing.

Meanwhile, for Bayan Secretary General Renato Reyes, the House's move was only a partial victory.

"The removal by the Lower House of confidential funds from the Office of the Vice President, Department of Education, Department of Agriculture, Department of Information and Communications Technology and Department of Foreign Affairs is the result of widespread clamor against non-transparent and discretionary spending by top officials. It is the result of calls for accountability in the spending of public funds," Reyes said.

"However, it is not enough that some confidential funds are removed or transferred. The very notion of 'confidential' funds must be abolished. Public funds should be itemized in the budget and subject to regular audit. Non-transparent and discretionary funds, those with no clear purpose, are vulnerable to corruption. We urge congress to realign the confidential funds in favor of social services with clear line items," he added. —KBK, GMA Integrated News