Senate Minority Leader Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III on Thursday raised the need to test the legality of allocating intelligence funds to the Office of the President (OP).
“I’ll just make this appeal, siguro in due time siguro kung meron tayong mga activists lawyers listening to us, maybe a case can be filed with the Supreme Court to test the legality of the grant of intel fund to the Office of the President being a civilian agency,” Pimentel said during the continuation of the Senate plenary debates on the proposed 2024 national budget.
Confidential funds are allocations that civilian government agencies use for surveillance activities supporting their mandate while intelligence funds are being used by the uniformed, military personnel, and intelligence practitioners in sourcing information related to national security.
Pimentel said he has no problem with the allocation of confidential funds for OP as it is a civilian agency. But he said he is not in favor of allocating intelligence funds to the OP because it is not composed of uniformed and military personnel and the offices that are tasked to gather intelligence are already its direct supervision.
“The president himself and as well as his office are consumers of intelligence already gathered and organized by the intel practitioners under which are the agencies, some agencies under the OP in the Executive Branch,” Pimentel said.
Pimentel also questioned the allocation of intelligence funds to OP as it is the same office that is tasked to monitor the utilization of all confidential and intelligence funds (CIF) in all government agencies
The minority leader then pointed out the “weak” checks and balances, noting that under Joint Circular No. 2015-01 of the Commission on Audit (COA), the report on the use of intelligence funds will be given also to the OP.
According to Pimentel, the reports on the use of confidential funds are submitted to the OP, Commission on Audit, Office of the Senate President, and the Office of the Speaker of the House of Representatives.
But for the intelligence funds, Pimentel said the reports on its use are submitted only to the OP.
“What happens here is that intelligence fund usage, the reports are submitted to the OP or before the intelligence funds can be tapped, they have to be requested from the Office of the President and then our system says that that office itself has its own intel fund,” Pimentel said.
“So nasira ‘yung controls and checks system po natin. That’s the entire checking system eh, that there is that Office of the President which controls, regulates, supervises and checks the usage of the intelligence funds and yet mismong siya ay binibigyan ng intel funds,” he went on.
Pimentel noted the “weakness” of how the joint circular was interpreted and implemented.
“So he reports to himself…That is the weakness of how we have interpreted and implemented this joint circular na participated in by the Executive Branch that is the point… Bagsak, sirang-sira ang concept of checks and balances and controls, Mr. President,” Pimentel went on.
In response, Senator Sonny Angara, who sponsored the 2024 budget of the OP, said the OP is not exempted from submitting documents to COA with regards to the use of intelligence funds.
“There are safeguards in the joint circular that you mentioned. It is subject to audit and documents are available to the COA and the Office of the President is not exempt from those requirements,” Angara said.
“So, if we are talking about checks and balances, that is perhaps one. And ang maganda rin sa (what is good about this request from the) Office of the President is that they have not sought to increase any of these amounts at least for the last four years,” he added.
While he said he doesn’t see any issue on OP’s confidential funds, Pimentel also questioned the huge amount requested by President Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr.
“Our president is an Ilocano. So I appeal to his Ilocano nature to review the amounts,” Pimentel said.
Before the end of the deliberations on the OP's budget, Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri said the president’s office has one of the most detailed and comprehensive reports on the use of CIFs.
“It was about two books detailing each and every disbursement and the nice thing about it is a complete report wherein this fund of this amount was disbursed for example, tipster or drug program, and which led to apprehension, which led to filing of a case, and actually cases on going,” Zubiri said.
Out of the P10.707 billion budget proposed by the OP for 2024, P2.250 billion is tagged as confidential expenses while P2.310 billion is tagged as intelligence expenses.
The budget of OP is deemed submitted for plenary approval. —KBK, GMA Integrated News