MANILA — Lawmakers over the weekend said they would look into the budgets for the offices of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and Vice President Sara Duterte and how contingent funds are used.
Appearing on Teleradyo Serbisyo's "Anong Ganap" show, House Appropriations Committee Senior Vice Chair Stella Luz Quimbo explained that the grant of parliamentary courtesy to the two highest offices does not mean the proposed budgets will not undergo scrutiny.
"It doesn't mean that we already approved their budgets. It doesn't mean that we already approved their budgets, it doesn't mean that we will not subject their budgets to debate. That's not what we mean. Pagdating sa plenaryo, magkakaroon po tayo ng full debate on their budgets."
Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian, vice chair of the Senate finance committee, on Saturday expressed interest in looking into the controversial funds in the proposed 2024 national budget once it reaches the Senate.
"Base sa aking... research, on the average, pumapalo siya ng P13 billion 'yung contingency fund, so malaki-laki rin siya," Gatchalian said.
The contingent fund is at the center of the controversy regarding the Office of the Vice President's 2022 confidential fund because it was used to fund that confidential expense allegedly without a line item in the 2022 budget.
Marikina Rep. Stella Quimbo said Sunday that there seems to be confusion on what the contingent fund is.
"These are funds na at the start of the budget cycle di pa alam kung sinong ahensiya ang gagamit. Therefore andoon lang siya sa DBM (Department of Budget and Management) and at any time during the year ay puwedeng i-request 'yan sa DBM and — depending on the specific rules for the fund — saka pa lang siya ire-release," Quimbo said.
She said that what the OVP didn't have at the start of 2022 under then Vice President Leni Robredo was an appropriation. Vice President Sara Duterte took over midyear after winning that year's elections.
"[A]fter that nagkaroon ng request for additional funds for a number of activities under a program so and may kasamang request for confidential expense 'yun po 'yung request," Quimbo said. She said that, given the nature of the request, the DBM considered the contingent fund the proper source of funding.
Gatchalian on Saturday said that there are few limitations on how the contingent fund can be used. He said the only prohibition in the General Appropriations Act is using the money to buy vehicles.
"Pero ang condition lang ang importante lang dito — uulitin ko ulit, ang importante lang dito — saan pinaggamitan," he said.
"Dapat 'yun talagang ma-review kung 'yung pinaggamitan ba ay nature ng hindi ba na-predict o 'di ba nakita 'yun ang importante."
OVP's CONFIDENTIAL FUNDS
The Makabayan bloc flagged the Office of the Vice President's (OVP) 2022 confidential fund during the budget briefing of the Commission on Audit (COA) earlier this month.
As Department of Budget and Management (DBM) documents later on would show, the Office of the President authorized the transfer of the funds from the P7-billion 2022 contingent fund to the OVP's 2022 confidential fund.
But Gatchalian and Quimbo both maintained that there was a line item for the OVP’s 2022 confidential fund.
Gatchalian wants agencies to justify the use of the funds as confidential funds.
He added that while confidential and intelligence funds have a legal basis, agencies should be judicious in resorting to these funds because of the limited transparency in their use.
"Iyung pag naka-intelligence funds o nakalagay sa confidential funds, hindi nakikita eh. Kung kaya ilagay na di naman makaka-apekto sa national security o sa gagawin ng ahensiya ilagay na lang sa line item at 'yun ang dapat busisiin," he said.
NO PROOF OF MISUSE
On Friday, the Makabayan bloc said they have no proof that confidential and intelligence funds have been misused but House Deputy Minority Leader France Castro and Gabriela Rep. Arlene Brosas said that is precisely why they want to open the funds to scrutiny, so they can be disabused that it is not being misused.
Brosas explained they have seen some red flags that merit examination, alleging there have been reports of intelligence funds being used to pay for police attaches' trips abroad
"Pero pag nakita mo doon sa mga reports on the travels, mga papunta ng music festival etc," she also said.
For Castro, one red flag is that the intelligence and confidential funds cannot be scrutinized.
A 2015 Joint Circular of the Commission on Audit, DBM, Department of National Defense, Department of Interior and Local Government and Governance Commission for GOCCs covers the audit of confidential and intelligence funds.
However, it includes rules that keep those confidential.