Senators grill VP Duterte about P500-M confidential funds

Sherrie Ann Torres, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Sep 04 2023 11:35 PM

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MANILA - The Office of the Vice President’s proposed P2.385 billion budget for year 2024 was able to breeze through the House Committee on Appropriations after several minutes of hearing last week, but not before the Senate Finance Committee when its officials presented their budget Monday. 
Senator Risa Hontiveros spent around 30 minutes in grilling Vice President and Education Secretary Sara Duterte, about the P500 million confidential funds incorporated in the OVP’s proposed P2.385 billion budget.
Hontiveros asked about the OVP’s mandate to do surveillance on civilian agencies.
Duterte said the OVP’s confidential fund supports their programs which include tree planting, free bus ride, livelihood and calamity assistance programs.
“Saang mga activities po na ito enumerated sa joint circular ay gagastusan ng confidential funds ng office niyo?” Hontiveros asked.
“As an example, uhm we did the surveillance of complaints uhm in constituents in Bulacan with regard to the selling of OVP assistance and selling of TUPAD projects in Bulacan and there was uh surveillance operation that was run by the VPSPG (Vice Presidential Security and Protection Group) for about a month. And uhm, we were able to apprehend the person and we were able to successfully prosecute the case and that person uhh went to jail for 'ilang months?' For six months,” the Vice President said.
“Sino po yung subjects, ano ang intensyon at capabilities ng mga subjects at paano tine-threaten ng mga subjects na ito ang mga operasyon ng OVP?” the senator followed up.
“Those that are perceived to be threats in the successful, safe and secure implementation of the PPAs (programs, projects and activities),” Duterte replied.
Hontiveros, however, remains unconvinced. 
“As I had been saying since last year's budget debates, we should leave intelligence to the experts, just as we leave education to the DepEd and we leave the mandates of the OVP to the OVP,” Hontiveros stressed. 
“We can live without confidential funds. But of course, our work will be much easier if we have the flexibility of confidential funds in monitoring the safe, secure and successful implementation of projects and activities of the OVP,” the Vice President said.
In the same hearing, the Vice President also confirmed receiving a P221 million fund from the Office of the President last year, which served as their Confidential Fund.
Duterte said they already submitted a report to the Office of the President, Senate President, House Speaker and the Commission on Audit on how the said fund was spent by the OVP.
Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel III, meanwhile, noted that P125 million of the OVP’s received P221 million fund from the OP, has been liquidated as confidential funds.
“There was no item for confidential fund for 2022, it’s not even zero. It’s nothing. It’s not even mentioned in the line item budgeting... how do we justify or reason out tis situation?,” Pimentel asked. 
“We requested confidential funds to the Office of the President as early as August 2022, and we were only granted the confidential funds, December 2022,” the Vice President said.
And added: “We requested it from the Office of the President and it was granted thru the Department of Budget and Management. I think the Department of Budget and Management can better answer the question of the transfer of funds from their source, to the Office of the Vice President.” 
Pimentel said, Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri will convene the Congressional Oversight Committee hearing on Confidential and Intelligence Funds (CIF).
The hearing was suspended for several minutes. 
When it resumed, administration Senators Christopher Go, Ramon Revilla Jr, Jinggoy Estrada and Ronald dela Rosa immediately moved for the approval of the OVP’s proposed budget.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman, Senator Sonny Angara seconded the motion.
The Vice President then proceeded to presenting the Education department’s proposed budget for next year amounting to P758.6 billion which include the agency’s P150 million Confidential Fund.
“In any case, Madam Secretary, in general terms, sa ilang mga subjects o sa aling mga entities magfo-focus ang DepEd sa kanyang surveillance o intelligence-gathering efforts? At anong intelligence tungkol sa mga subjects na ito ang ire-require ng DepEd?” Hontiveros asked.
“Your honor, this will be directed uh in the anti-insurgency, in the anti-terrorism and violent extremism with regard to pornography, child pornography, drugs cases, criminality and gangsterism. as well as other sexual exploitation complaints and reports,” the Vice President.
DepEd officials said, they would need P420 billion to complete their 159,000 classroom backlog or needs to be given a P105 billion fund yearly.
Education Undersecretary Epimaco Densing said, an additional half a million enrollees join the country’s student population every year.