MANILA — Vice President Sara Duterte on Monday thanked the Palace and her political allies for their defense of the transfer of P125 million in confidential funds to her office in 2022 that members of the political opposition tried to flag in budget hearings.
In her statement, Duterte thanked President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and other administration officials "who stood by the Office of the Vice President as it faced the storm of attacks on the 2022 Confidential Fund."
Duterte, without further explanation, also branded the criticisms of the confidential funds for her office as "lies."
The Office of the President in 2022 transferred some P221.4 million to the OVP, including the P125 million in confidential funds.
State auditors noted the increase in the OVP's spending in confidential funds since Duterte's predecessor, former Vice President Leni Robredo, did not have any in 2021.
Critics say there was no item for confidential funds in the OVP's 2022 budget and that the transfer of the P125-million confidential fund was improper.
"The Supreme Court squarely ruled that the power to augment cannot be used to fund non-existing items in the budget," former Senate President Franklin Drilon said, citing the case of Araullo v Aquino, which held that funding for items not covered by appropriation is unconstitutional.
But Executive Secretary Lucas Bersamin — author of the decision on Araullo v Aquino — said the transfers were in compliance with Special Provision No. 1 under the 2022 contingent fund.
“Vice President Sara, who was newly elected then, needed funds for her new programs for the remaining period of 2022. The President supported this initiative and released the funds, with the favorable recommendation of [the budget department]," Bersamin said last week.
Duterte said Bersamin's explanation showed that the "request, approval, and spending of the fund violated no law."
CONFIDENTIAL FUNDS FOR SATELLITE OFFICES
The P221-million transfer was approved by President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. under Maintenance and Other Operating Expenses.
Some P96.424 million was transferred to fund financial assistance or subsidy, while P125 million was given to finance confidential funds for newly created OVP satellite offices.
Lawyer Barry Gutierrez, Robredo's former spokesperson and a former member of the House, said the "admission" that the P125-million confidential fund was used for satellite offices means it was "used improperly."
Gutierrez said that COA-DBM Joint Circular No. 2015-01 limits the use of confidential funds "to those related to 'surveillance activities.'"
"'Confidential' does not mean kahit saan pwede. It is not a 'flexibility fund' much less a 'corruption fund,'" he said on X (formerly Twitter).
DUTERTE THANKS QUIMBO TOO
Duterte also expressed gratitude to Marikina Rep. Stella Quimbo, who was criticized on social media for an ANC interview where she said there was an item in the OVP's 2022 budget but that funding for it had been at zero.
Critics, including think tank IBON and members of the Makabayan bloc, asserted there was no item.
"Thank you to Rep. Stella Quimbo of the Second District of Marikina for bravely and rationally facing a gang of individuals who had successfully mastered the art of fabricating lies," Duterte said.
Duterte also assailed ACT Teachers party-list Rep. France Castro and the Makabayan bloc, as well as Sen. Risa Hontiveros, who challenged the OVP's request for confidential funds in the proposed 2024 budget.
"The indignity they have caused Congress and the Senate should be enough for us not to give them serious attention," Duterte said.
But Hontiveros pointed out that all agencies go through budget scrutiny.
"Hindi kayo special. If you’re so confident about those confidential funds, then defend them publicly," Hontiveros said, addressing the Office of the Vice President.
"At higit sa usapin ng batas, huwag ilihis sa tunay na issue: Si Vice President Duterte lang - bilang VP at Secretary ng DepEd - ang may confidential funds na mas malaki pa sa combined confidential funds ng DND at NICA. Bakit ba kailangan niya ng napakalaking pondo na walang audit o disclosure sa publiko?" she said in a statement.