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OVP's P125-M confidential fund in 2022 questioned before SC

A petition asking the Supreme Court to order the Office of the Vice President (OVP) to return the P125 million confidential funds to the government’s treasury was filed by several individuals on Tuesday.

In a 49-page petition for certiorari, the petitioners asked the High Court to declare the transfer of the confidential funds done in 2022 as "unconstitutional."

Petitioners claimed that there is no “delegated legislative power” in the transfer and that the confidential funds do not fall under the funding allowed by the contingent fund.

“The request for OVP for confidential funds was a general one, and instead of funding the “Good Governance Program” and “Travelling Expenses,” which are existing items under the OVP for the 2022 GAA, the funds were transferred to a non-existent Confidential Fund,” they said.

The petitioners are former Comission on Elections (Comelec) chairman Augusto Lagman,  Constitution framer Christian Monsod, former Department of Finance Undersecretary Maria Cielo Magno, Chairperson of the Commission on Filipinos Overseas (CFO) Imelda Nicolas, Atty. Ibarra Gutierrez III, Katrina Monsod, Ray Paolo Santiago, Honorio Poblador III, Vicente Romano III, Rex Drilon, and Miguel Jugo. 

According to petitioners, the transfer is also a circumvention of accountability.

“The transfer to an item created by executive fiat, which is the Confidential Fund, is nothing more but to circumvent the proper accounting scrutiny required for the use of public funds,” the petitioners said.

“The utilization of a confidential fund under the guise of confidential expenses is to shortchange accountability when the very same expenses are already itemized in respondent OVP’s budget under the GAA (General Appropriations Act) of 2022,” they added.

The respondents are the OVP, represented by Vice President Sara Duterte, the Office of the Executive Secretary, represented by Executive Secretary Lucas Bersamin, and the Department of Budget and Management, represented by Budget Secretary Amenah Pangandaman.

GMA News Online has sought comment from the OVP but has yet to receive a response as of posting time.

Back in August, Vice President Duterte maintained that there was "nothing irregular or unauthorized about its spending."

"The required liquidation and accomplishment reports have been submitted to the oversight agencies," said Duterte. 

It was the Commission on Audit (COA) that initially disclosed that the OVP spent P125 million in 11 days in December 2022.

House Committee on Appropriations senior vice chairperson and Marikina Representative Stella Quimbo, who stood as budget sponsor for the OVP's 2024, also defended the confidential fund during the House deliberations. 

“Entitled po siya [sa confidential fund] noong 2022 because of the 2022 [national budget] appropriation for the contingent fund. The contingent fund is a special purpose fund... The agencies can ask the DBM (Department of Budget and Management) for their [funding] need for a new and urgent project as they go along,” Quimbo said.

Quimbo's statement comes after House Deputy Minority Leader France Castro argued that the OVP was not entitled to receive that amount because the confidential fund is not expressly provided for in the OVP’s budget.

“The confidential expense is not a line item. Hindi po siya line item. Hindi po lahat ng salita sa GAA (General Appropriations Act) ay line item. Ang line item lamang at gaya ng Programs, Activities and Projects (PAP) [of agencies]. Ang line item na PAP ng OVP noong 2022, kung saan kasama ang confidential expenses, ay Good Governance Projects and Social Services. Kaya po sinasabi natin na authorized ang confidential expense noong 2022 [ng OVP],” Quimbo explained. —VAL, GMA Integrated News