Senator Risa Hontiveros on Monday said that she agrees with Vice President Sara Duterte when the latter said that her office could “live without” the P500 million confidential funds they are requesting for 2024 after Duterte admitted to using confidential funds this year for free bus rides, tree plantings and other programs unrelated to security matters.
“Masaya ako na mismong si Vice President Duterte na ang nagsabi na kaya nilang mabuhay ng walang malaking confidential funds sa 2024. There is no good reason why the Office of the Vice President (OVP) should have confidential fund allocations that are larger than the combined confidential budgets of our top security agencies,” Hontiveros said.
During a Senate Finance subcommittee hearing, Hontiveros showed that the OVP’s proposed P500 million confidential funds – which have less auditing and reporting requirements than regular public funds – “tower over” the combined P438.2 million confidential and intelligence funds allocated for both the Department of National Defense (DND) and the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (NICA).
“There is something fundamentally wrong when the OVP alone has a confidential fund of half a billion pesos while the NICA itself, which is the government’s primary intelligence arm, has confidential and intelligence funds of only P341.2 million. Alam naman natin kung kanino talaga dapat napupunta ang confidential at intelligence funds – sa DND, NICA at iba pang responsable para sa national security, law enforcement at border protection,” Hontiveros said.
Duterte, during the same hearing, admitted that the OVP has been using its confidential funds for 2023 for the “safe, secure and successful” implementation of initiatives with no direct relation to national security, like the construction of a vice presidents’ museum and an OVP permanent office as well as free bus rides, tree plantings and feeding programs.
Hontiveros pointed out that the initiatives do not fall under the exclusive list of programs in which confidential funds may be used, as laid out in COA-DBM Joint Circular No. 2015-01. The circular, she said, requires that confidential funds be used only for the purchase of information and or expenses “necessary for the formulation and implementation of programs, activities and projects relevant to national security and peace and order.”
“As important as free bus rides and tree buildings are, these are not projects involving national security for which confidential funds should be used. Hindi iyan pwedeng maging justification para sa napakalaking confidential funds. Pwede namang pondohan ang mga proyekto na yan gamit ang regular funds ng ahensya,” the senator said.
Hontiveros then urged her colleagues in the Senate to take up the Vice President on her word that she and the OVP can fulfill their functions without the hundreds of millions in confidential funds.
“Kayang kaya ng OVP na pagsilbihan ang Bayan ng hindi gumagamit ng confidential funds na halos hindi naau-audit at narereport sa publiko. As I have said before, let’s leave the security and intelligence work to the experts,” Hontiveros concluded. (AI/MNM)