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Wednesday, December 6, 2023

‘OVP intel funds invalid but not impeachment ground’

Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman said the release of P125 million in confidential funds to the Office of Vice President (OVP) in 2022 was “invalid” but may not be a culpable violation of the Constitution, one of the grounds for impeachment.

“It’s invalid,” Lagman said of the release, even though the 2022 General Appropriations Act did not allocate any such funds to the OVP headed by Sara Duterte.

“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. Because, otherwise, it will be a derogation of the rights of the Congress,” he added.

The Office of the President, the Commission on Audit, the Department of Budget and Management have all maintained the legality of the release of the funds to the OVP, because it was taken from the Contingent Fund, which Congress authorizes for new and urgent expenses that were not anticipated during budget preparation and approval.

“It needs more intensive study, but I was just asked whether it’s a culpable violation of the Constitution. I said it may not be, because when you say culpable, it’s an extreme case of liability. But in this case, it’s possible that there was a mistake in the interpretation of the pertinent regulations,” Lagman said.

“Because the Congress said that no funds will be there, because we did not appropriate any funds, and even the vice president then, [Leni] Robredo did not ask for those confidential funds. There were no confidential funds in the Office of the Vice President in 2022. The contingent funds cannot be used for confidential funds,” he added.

Earlier, the Makabayan bloc at the House of Representatives led by Deputy Minority leader and ACT Teachers Rep. France Castro claimed that Duterte may have committed “multiple violations for using P125 million in confidential funds in 2022 “when there was no congressional authorization for confidential and intelligence funds (CIF) for the Office of the Vice President (OVP) for that fiscal year.”

Castro said in the 2022 General Appropriations Act (GAA), the OVP has no appropriation for confidential expenses. She noted that the 2022 GAA was prepared and proposed by then President Rodrigo Duterte and enacted by Congress in 2021.

Lagman meanwhile defended the decision of the House leadership to reallocate the confidential and intelligence funds to agencies which needed these funds the most.

“The reallocation of confidential and intelligence funds from one department or agency to another is merely a transfer of allocation from one office to another which does not result in exceeding the total ceiling proposed in the NEP (National Expenditure Program),” Lagman said.

“In other words, it is a process of subtraction and addition of allocations which does not breach the ceiling,” he added.

House leaders announced they would reallocate confidential and intelligence funds, originally designated for non-security departments, to bolster security efforts in the West Philippine Sea.

A significant portion of these funds will now support the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (NICA) and the National Security Council (NSC), organizations responsible for intelligence activities and national security coordination, respectively.

Additionally, the 2024 budgets for the Philippine Coast Guard and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources will be increased to enhance surveillance capabilities in the West Philippine Sea.

The Senate, too, will reallocate confidential and intelligence funds to agencies in charge of intelligence and surveillance activities amid the recent events in the West Philippine Sea (WPS).

Senator Risa Hontiveros said she is rallying behind the realignment of confidential and intelligence funds (CIFs) to agencies truly defending the country’s territory.

“They really deserve this additional support,” she said.

Hontiveros asserted that it is really wrong that civilian agencies that have nothing to do with national security will get P500 million in confidential funds, while the PCG which is watching over the WPS has only P10 million in confidential funds for 2024.

“Again, confidential and intelligence funds should go to agencies directly mandated to uphold national security and protect our people,” she said. “So the plan to reallocate funds to PCG is undeniably on the right track.”

“Now, we are walking the talk. I am very glad that we are starting to set our national priorities straight,” she added.

Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri said they have agreed in the Senate to do what the House has done.

“We also will be reallocating funds that we feel are not necessary for the use of certain agencies,” he said.

“We will allocate them to our intelligence community as well as our Coast Guard and the Armed Forces of the Philippines,” he said.

Asked if the funds allotted to the OVP and DepEd will be reallocated, Zubiri said they will review all agencies with CIFs.

Senate Majority Leader Joel Villanueva said he fully supports the decision of theHouse to realign CIFs.

He guaranteed that intelligence funds would be taken from some civilian agencies and reallocated to agencies involved in actual intelligence monitoring and gathering.


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