Makabayan bloc protests not being allowed to scrutinize OVP budget

RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Sep 14 2022 10:17 PM | Updated as of Sep 14 2022 10:48 PM

MANILA - The Makabayan bloc on Wednesday protested the House leadership's twin terminations of the budget briefings of the Offices of the President (OP) and Vice President (OVP) without them being allowed to ask questions.

As with the OP two weeks ago, the House Appropriations Committee also terminated the briefing on the OVP budget without asking questions on Wednesday.

"Congress should stop this practice of servility to the president and the vice president. It should perform its mandate of guarding the hard earned funds of the people," House Deputy Minority Leader France Castro said in a statement.

She lamented that Congress let the budget of "the Office of the President and that of the Vice President go without even a question on their proposed budget with so much lump sums."

Castro cited "the unprecedented P500 million confidential funds under the Office of the Vice President", which, according to her "may pose as a national security risk as even the president is not privy on where and how it would be spent."

She expressed worry that "such funds can be used for surveillance and finance a coup against the president because it is a highly secretive type of fund."

"Another issue is the burgeoning of operational funds supposedly for 'Good Governance Engagements and Social Service Projects' endangers civilian supremacy because such projects gives excessive entanglement of the military in civilian functions, civilian government," said Castro.

"As it is, the funds for Good Governance Entanglements MOOE increased from P523.785 million to P2.069 billion, while its Capital Outlay increased from 0 to P32.5 million," she noted.

"Since 2013, only in GAA 2021 (P6mil) and NEP 2023 (P32.5 million) that its CO was funded."

Castro said those matters needed to be asked, as she thinks "these funds can be better utilized if they are realigned to the Department of Education, Department of Health or the Department of Social Work and Development."

"As it is, Congress is being reduced as a rubber stamp and a doormat of the executive," she said of the development.

"We need to fulfill our sworn duty to scrutinize the budget because this is one of the main ways to detect abuse and under utilization of the people's fund. By just letting the OP and OVP go without nary a question, then Congress is being remiss of this duty and damaging its own name," Castro said.

Assistant Minority Leader and Gabriela Partylist Rep. Arlene Brosas also denounced the move of the House leadership.

"The Makabayan bloc lawmakers were the only ones in line to interpellate on the budget of the Office of the Vice President but were not allowed to put forward questions or clarifications. This is a clear disregard for the Filipino people's right to scrutinize the budget of government offices," said Brosas.

"Karapatan natin na malaman saan nga ba mapupunta ang P2.292 billion na pondo na sinalaksak sa opisina ng bise presidente."

Brosas said her partylist intended to scrutinize "the OVP's proposed P500 million confidential fund as this is the first time the office will be given a black budget."

"Bakit kailangan ng confidential fund ng pangalawang pangulo? Anu-ano ang pagkakagastusan nito na gustong itago ng OVP? Kung wala namang tinatago, dapat handang harapin ang mga katanungan hinggil dito," she said.

"We are talking about P500 million which could have been used to give cash aid to low-income families or education subsidy for struggling students," she continued, and "while many Filipinos struggle to make ends meet."

"The Filipino people deserve transparency. We deserve to know where our money is going," said Brosas.

House Appropriations Committee Chair Elizaldy Co praised Vice President Sara Duterte at the start of the hearing.

"We are aware of course, and we congratulate her on the successful resumption of the face-to-face class under her concurrent capacity as DepEd Secretary. But just as notable are the accomplishments of the OVP," said Co.

"Days from assuming office, the OVP has been very active. Within that short period, various satellite offices have been established all over the country which enabled the government to expand the reach of its social services," he added.

"Indeed, the growing population and its growing demand for more government assistance call for such proactive and whole-of-government approach. The OVP is no longer just the passive office as originally envisioned, but by necessity, must actively engage with the people."

"Thus, we fully support the proposed P2.31 billion budget of the OVP for 2023, the bulk of which will go towards good governance projects and the needed social services. I speak for my colleagues when I say that this committee has full confidence in the VP's performance of her duties," said Co, who represents the AKO BICOL partylist.

The Makabayan bloc had accused Duterte of red tagging.

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