What’s wrong with allotting nearly P10 billion in funds that, if spent, cannot be questioned or looked into at all by the Commission on Audit?
Plenty, if we’re to believe what opposition lawmakers are saying.
We’re talking about the P9.29 billion out of the P5.268 trillion national budget for 2023 proposed by Malacañang that will go to the confidential and intelligence (CIF) budgets of several agencies.
The Office of the President will be the biggest recipient of the CIFs, with P2.25 billion intelligence and another P2.25 billion confidential funds. That’s not an issue as the OP has long been given such funds.
What’s unusual is that the Office of the Vice President and the Department of Education, both under Vice President Sara Duterte, have P650-million confidential and intelligence funds tucked in their budgets.
The P500 million CIF under the OVP is even higher than the P444 million CIF for the Philippine Army, P175 million for the National Bureau of Investigation and P141 million for the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency.
That’s not only unusual, but perhaps even unconscionable and unseemly, as it would appear that school principals and teachers would be used for intelligence gathering, something for which they are not trained at all.
The Philippine National Police and the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency will each get P500 million, the same amount as the OVP’s allocation for CIF.
Under a 2015 Commission on Audit set of guidelines, confidential funds refer to expenses for surveillance activities of civilian government agencies.
On the other hand, intelligence expenses are defined as disbursements related to intelligence information-gathering activities of uniformed, military personnel and intelligence practitioners.
Rep. Edcel Lagman of the First District of Albay is among those opposed to CIFs because of the lack of transparency in spending the amounts.
He says that CIF use is “shrouded in mystery” and barely audited. If these are audited at all, the Commission on Audit has refused to disclose its findings to Congress, which appropriates the amount.
“These funds breed corruption, and the more enormous the funds are, the greater the magnitude is for the possibility of graft,” the lawmaker said.
At a budget hearing in the House of Representatives in September, Lagman questioned the refusal by the Commission on Audit (COA) to disclose details of the use of confidential funds, including liquidation reports.
Lagman warned that if the post-audit was “covered by secrecy and not disclosed to this very House that appropriates funds, that makes the audit more imaginary and possibly not being done seriously and effectively.”
Kabataan party-list Rep. Raoul Manuel has gone one step further and enumerated where some of the CIF funds could be realigned.
The P4.5-billion allotment for the OP alone could be used to fund the salary increase of 460,000 teachers or 368,000 non-teaching personnel.
The same amount would also be enough to repair and rehabilitate 6,800 classrooms or provide 31,200 school seats or hire 9,300 nurses for the schools or provide 700,000 classrooms with improved ventilation based on the latest COVID-19 protocols.
Senate Minority Leader Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel 3rd is just as livid in his objection to what he calls excessive lump sum allocations for confidential and intelligence funds in the proposed 2023 national budget.
Pimentel said ordinary Filipino taxpayers should also question the propriety of appropriating confidential and intelligence funds to agencies with no clear mandate to use them.
“This is the time our people should now take part, first by understanding what confidential funds are,” he pointed out.
Sen. Risa Hontiveros has also questioned the P150 million additional funding for the DepEd.
She said the department should focus instead on institutional reforms to improve basic education in the country, rather than venture into national security concerns.
“[DepEd’s] budget prioritization is misplaced. Let’s leave intelligence and security to the pros,” Hontiveros said.
“We do not question the legal basis for the provision of confidential funds to civilian agencies like DepEd. But their confidential fund is higher even than what the state’s intelligence agency had asked for. DepEd would just be duplicating the existing functions on national security, national defense, law enforcement.
The senator cited other areas under DepEd’s mandate where funding is more urgent, such as ensuring the health and safety of teachers and students amid the COVID-19 pandemic, strengthening its education program for the indigenous peoples and improving overall literacy in the country.
VP Duterte earlier defended her department’s request for intelligence funds, saying it needed the money for the surveillance of criminals targeting school children.
Huh? She had also asked for a separate P500 million — this time as intelligence funds for the Office of the Vice President — an item never allotted to that office during the time of her predecessor, Leni Robredo.
Where will the money go?
Into below-the-radar programs and projects that will ultimately redound to the public good and protect national security?
Or simply go down the drain—into the pockets of the corrupt and the unscrupulous? (Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)