Duterte gov't eyeing P8.6 billion budget on intel, surveillance expenses

RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 23 2021 10:45 PM

President Rodrigo Duterte presides over a Cabinet Meeting at the Malacanang Palace on Jan. 11, 2021. Albert Alcain, Presidential Photo/File
President Rodrigo Duterte presides over a Cabinet Meeting at the Malacanang Palace on Jan. 11, 2021. Albert Alcain, Presidential Photo/File

MANILA - The Duterte administration is looking to spend over P8 billion of the national budget on surveillance next year — which is lower than this year's allocation.

According to the Budget of Expenditures and Sources of Financing Tables attached to the 2022 National Expenditure Program (NEP) that was submitted to the House of Representatives on Monday, the government has earmarked a grand total of P8.6 billion for intelligence and confidential expenses.

This is lower by P911,372,000 from what is allotted this year.

Intelligence expenses refer to those related to intelligence information-gathering activities of uniformed and military personnel, and intelligence practitioners that have direct impact on national security. Agencies utilizing intelligence funds must submit to the President a quarterly report on the accomplishments in the use of said funds.

Confidential expenses, meanwhile, are for those related to surveillance activities in civilian government agencies that are intended to support the mandate or operations of the agency. 

Agencies utilizing confidential funds are required to submit to the President and both chambers of Congress a quarterly report on the accomplishments in the use of said funds. 

Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate slammed the allocation of funds for surveillance on election year in the middle of a pandemic. 

“Earmarking P8.6 billion for CIF in a time of pandemic aggravated crisis, and 2022 being an election year shows the gravely misplaced priorities of the Duterte administration," he said.

"Also, it cannot blame people for thinking that this amount would be used to ensure that the candidates of the Duterte clique would win in the polls, given that intelligence and confidential funds are not fully audited or subject to full public scrutiny," he added.

Zarate noted the P5.024 trillion budget for 2022 submitted by the administration is a "supersized election budget designed to bankroll administration bets but will also ramp up suppression of the opposition and other critics of the administration." 

"Just look at its priorities: it allotted P686.1 billion for the Department of Public Work and Highways (DPWH) and P250.4 billion for the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) so that more funds can be distributed to its allies in the run up to the elections. Yet, it only allotted P242 billion for the Department of Health even if we are still in the middle of a raging pandemic," the progressive solon said.

"Under this pandemic aggravated crisis, what our country needs most are not more roads or buildings; what we need now are more and fast vaccine roll-out, free mass testing, pro-active contact tracing, treatment, benefits for health workers and ayuda for the underemployed and jobless."

"Aside from insisting on its debunked Build, Build, Build framework; the Duterte administration is also hellbent in pursuing its 'Kill,Kill, Kill' policy by jacking up the DILG budget, as well as its primary red-tagging agency , the NTF-ELCAC with P29.08 billion, and the Department of National Defense (DND) with P222 billion," Zarate said.

He was partly referring to the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict, which is getting a proposed budget higher than the P19 billion it got this year. 

The lawmaker accused the administration of designing the 2022 budget to keep "Duterte allies in power after the elections." 

"These unprecedented gargantuan budget must be thoroughly scrutinized, not just because it is taxpayers' money, but because the future and survival of our country are at stake here," Zarate said.

Gabriela Party-list Rep. Arlene Brosas also slammed the P28.1-billion allocation for the NTF-ELCAC under the proposed 2022 budget, saying it would be used for the administration’s red-tagging and vote-buying operations.

Brosas noted that the Barangay Development Program (BDP), which is part of the local government support fund, will get a 71-percent budget increase despite mounting calls for the defunding or abolition of the task force. 

“NTF-ELCAC’s budget surge for 2022 will do more harm than good to Filipinos, as the P28.1 billion constitutes Duterte’s election war chest to buy votes from barangays and campaign against opposition figures at P20 million for each barangay. Pork barrel ito ng NTF-ELCAC dahil sila ang magtatakda ng bibigyang barangay,” said Brosas. 

“LGUs will already receive an additional P230 billion under the implementation of Mandanas ruling next year. Why should we allow NTF-ELCAC to pool another P28.1 billion for the same kinds of local projects? This is not progressive. This program is regressive and counter-productive,” she added. 

Under the guidelines for the Barangay Development Program this year, funds will be downloaded by the provincial governments for the implementation of projects in barangays selected by the NTF-ELCAC. 

Brosas said she will push for the realignment of the multi-billion funding of the BDP towards critical health programs and interventions, such as capital outlays for public hospitals and vaccine procurement, saying it was noted by the Commission on Audit (COA) that there were realignments made in the P2.9 million DILG budget downloaded by its Region XII office, upon the directive of the DILG Central Office. 

She noted that the P2.9-million fund transfers from the DILG Central Office to regional offices exceeded the sub-allotment by 73 percent and that the fund utilization was modified, raising reasonable suspicions that excess funds were realigned to NTF-ELCAC. 

The task force, meanwhile, insisted that government funds were put to proper use through programs aimed at countering communist insurgency in various communities.

NTF-ELCAC vice chair and National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. said the task force does not receive funds from other government agencies, adding there were no fund transfers to the them as various government agencies spend their own funds through coordinated programs.

DUTERTE'S MESSAGE ON PROPOSED 2022 BUDGET

In his message on the 2022 NEP, Duterte said the proposed budget "intends to ramp up economic growth through continuing investments in public infrastructure" even as it also "puts premium on the health sector." 

Citing the need to continue addressing problems emanating from communist activities in the countryside, he said said the government's success in such efforts now paves the way for the smooth implementation of the Barangay Development Program, which will rehabilitate 1,406 barangays in conflict-affected areas.

Lawmakers in the House of Representatives will start tackling the proposed budget on Thursday.

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