MANILA — The controversy surrounding the 2022 confidential funds of the Office of the Vice President (OVP) turned personal Monday after Vice President Sara Duterte accused Sen. Risa Hontiveros of having a "flair for drama," prompting the lawmaker to issue a strongly-worded response over the "personal attack."
Earlier in the day, Duterte thanked the Palace and her political allies for their defense of the transfer of P125 million in confidential funds to her office in 2022, which Hontiveros flagged as illegal.
The Vice President then took a swipe at her critics, particularly naming Hontiveros, whom she said has a "flair for drama" that "amuses the nation."
"Senator Risa Hontiveros, while she amuses the nation with her flair for drama, could only wish the 2022 OVP CF was accessed illegally... It’s a shame they still cannot produce any proof to support their dirty imagination," Duterte said.
In response, Hontiveros said: "Trabaho lang, walang drama."
Hontiveros defended her interrogation of the OVP's confidential funds after Duterte called it "amusing."
"Gagawin mo lang ang trabaho mo, 'amusing' na agad? Kung meron mang 'amusing,' 'yan ay 'yung halos kalahating oras na turo-turo, pag-iwas sa tanong, paikot-ikot na sagot, at pagbabalu-baluktot ng sitwasyon. Ginawa nilang perya ang basic na proseso ng pagbusisi ng pera ng bayan," she said.
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.
Hontiveros also pointed out how offices under Duterte—the OVP and the Department of Education—have more confidential funds than the Department of National Defense and the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency.
"Si Vice President Duterte lang 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?" the senator asked.
The senator said Duterte should just answer her questions instead of resorting to "personal attacks."
"Given the significant responsibility of government officials, I expect a shred of competence when it comes to fiscal matters... Kaysa sa mga personal na atake at pag-iwas sa tanong, mas maganda sigurong kung linawin na lang si VP Sara ang pondo ng opisina nya," Hontiveros said.