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Thursday, February 22, 2024

Third petition vs. Sara’s intel funds filed at SC

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A third petition against the Office of the Vice President’s P125-million confidential funds in 2022 reached the Supreme Court on Monday as Makabayan bloc representatives and former lawmakers called for its release to be declared void and unconstitutional.

In a 36-page petition for certiorari, the petitioners also asked the Supreme Court to declare void the use of the confidential funds and to declare this as auditable by the Commission on Audit (COA).

The bloc also sought the return of the P125 million from Vice President Sara Duterte’s office to the government.

“Our prayer is for the SC to declare null and void and unconstitutional the release, request, receipt, and use by Sara Duterte of the confidential funds,” ACT-Teacher party-list Rep. France Castro said in an ambush interview.

“And if it is proven unconstitutional, it must be returned,” she added.

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The petitioners are Castro, Gabriela Women’s party-list Rep. Arlene Brosas, Kabataan party-list Rep. Raoul Manuel, Bayan Muna chairman Neri Colmenares, and former Bayan Muna solons Carlos Isagani Zarate, Ferdinand Gaite, and Eufemia Cullamat, among others.

Meanwhile, named respondents are Executive Secretary Lucas Bersamin, on behalf of President Marcos, VP Duterte, Budget Secretary Amenah Pangandaman, and COA Chairperson Gamaliel Cordoba, as a necessary party.

Castro said Duterte should be made to explain how the OVP used the P125 million.

“Because she did not answer us during the budget hearing. Until now, she has not spoken up about her usage of the P125 million. So we are asking the Supreme Court to compel her to explain how she used it in 11 days,” Castro said.

A similar petition was filed by former Commission on Elections chairman Augusto Lagman, Constitutional framer Christian Monsod, and former Finance undersecretary Maria Cielo Magno, among others, before the SC on November 7.

On Nov. 15, several lawyers, priests, and law students also asked the Supreme Court to declare the order and circular that covers the disbursement of confidential and intelligence funds null and void. Among them was retired Supreme Court associate justice Antonio Carpio.

According to the petition, the release of the confidential funds to the OVP in 2022 without congressional authorization violated Section 1, Article 6 of the 1987 Constitution, which states that “legislative power shall be vested in the Congress of the Philippines.”

“While it is true that the Chief Executive has some discretion and flexibility in the budget execution stage, this power must only be exercised within the bounds set by the Constitution and the appropriate laws,” it read.

The petitioners cited Section 25(2) and Section 25(6) of Article 6, which they said bar the president from creating confidential funds out of the Contingent Fund.

They also cited Section 25(5) as preventing the president from moving any portion of the Contingent Fund as a “transfer to” any agency.

Further, the petitioners said that the OVP has no grounds to maintain that the P125 million are confidential funds as there was no item placed under confidential expense under the congressional appropriation of the OVP.

“In other words, there was no appropriation—or any congressional fiat to spend a certain amount for a particular purpose—for confidential expenses in 2022, yet Respondent Duterte caused the obligation and disbursement of P125 Million as confidential funds,” they said.

The petitioners said that due to this, every payment made for confidential expenses should be illegal and every public official and private individual who received the payment should be held liable for full restitution.

“Any insistence that the P125 million was spent for payment of informants or rental safehouse, for instance, renders the responsible officers vulnerable to these liabilities,” the petitioners said.

In August, Duterte maintained that there was “nothing irregular or unauthorized” about how the funds were spent. It was COA that initially disclosed that the OVP spent P125 million in 11 days in December 2022.

Colmenares said he did not believe that the OVP could have spent the confidential funds in 11 days in accordance with the guidelines.

“We do not think that there is a way she spent the P125 million in 11 days, during Christmas, that is in accordance with the guidelines. So we’re hoping it will be clear,” he said.

Colmenares also stressed that the supposed “obsession” of civilian agencies with confidential funds should be stopped.

“Why don’t they want to put their programs, activities, and projects in the budget so these can be funded? Why do they want to place these in the confidential funds? Do they have plans to steal these, or treat these as their money? This is for civilian agencies, ha? I’m not just talking about the Vice President here,” he said.

“This should be stopped because billions are drained from our public funds every budget deliberations for the secret funds of these government agencies,” Colmenares added. With Maricel V. Cruz

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