MANILA (3rd UPDATE) — China's installation of a floating barrier in Bajo de Masinloc has galvanized leaders of political parties in the House of Representatives to seek the reallocation of confidential and intelligence funds to the Philippine Coast Guard and 3 other agencies.
In a joint statement, heads of political parties in the House of Representatives said they "view with serious concern the installation of a floating barrier by the China Coast Guard (CCG) in the Southeast of Bajo de Masinloc (BDM) Shoal."
"This action not only impedes the rights and livelihoods of our Filipino fishermen but also disrupts the prevailing atmosphere of regional peace and collaboration."
As a result, the leaders want to reallocate confidential funds to the PCG, the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (NICA), the National Security Council (NSC), and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR).
"Recognizing the rising security threats in the West Philippine Sea and the need to secure top officials, these agencies are better positioned to counteract security threats, protect our territorial waters, and secure the rights and access of Filipino fishermen to traditional fishing grounds," it said.
"This decision also underscores the need to ensure that resource allocation aligns with national priorities and the urgent needs of the citizenry, reflecting our commitment to a budget that is balanced, equitable, and serves the true needs and aspirations of the Filipino people."
The joint statement was signed by Rizal Rep. Michael John Duavit of the Nationalist Peoples Coalition, Surigao del Sur Rep. Johnny Pimentel of the PDP Laban, Agusan del Norte 1st District Rep. Jose Joboy Aquino of Lakas CMD, Romblon Rep. Eleandro Jesus Madrona of Nacionalista Party, Camarines Sur Rep. LRay Villafuerte of the National Unity Party and BHW Party List Rep. Angelica Natasha Co of the Party List Coalition.
The statement, however, did not say where they would like to source the funds.
Progressive bloc representatives have sought the realignment of surveillance funds to other projects with a direct impact on the public.
The House may alter the budget submitted by the executive, but it cannot add to the existing budget of P5.768 trillion. This means fund adjustments will have to be sourced internally.
Meanwhile, Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri said the upper chamber "will do the same" as what the House leaders have proposed.
"We will also reallocate funds that we feel are not necessary for the use of certain agencies and allocate them to our intelligence community, as well as our Coast Guard and AFP," he said
When asked if the proposed confidential funds of the Office of the Vice President and the Department of Education would be affected, Zubiri said: "We shall review all agencies."
Senate Majority Leader Joel Villanueva, meanwhile, said government agencies seeking confidential and intelligence funds should be given a "harder" time before being granted such allocation.
He said this can be incorporated in the 2024 General Appropriations Act.
"Maaari ring ilagay sa provisions ng ipapasang 2024 budget, yung ilang provision na maaaring dagdagan ang mga hinihingi at talagang pahirapan pa, masiguro na merong transparency higit sa lahat accountability dito sa mga confidential fund," Villanueva said.
"Again, we are not against confidential fund per se, intelligence fund per se. But we just wanted accountability and ensure that this is needed," he added.
Sen. Risa Hontiveros also agreed with the Senate leaders' proposal.
"Buo ang aking suporta sa plano ni Senate President Migz Zubiri, at ng aming mga kasamahan sa House of Representatives, na ilipat na yang confidential at intelligence funds sa mga ahensyang totoong dumedepensa sa ating teritoryo at nagtatanggol sa ating likas yaman sa West Philippine Sea," Hontiveros said.
Jay Tarriela, spokesperson of the PCG on the West Philippine Sea, earlier said the PCG's intelligence fund has been limited to only P10 million since 2009.
Tarriela also highlighted the need to modernize the Coast Guard to beef up the country's defenses in the face of Chinese aggression.
Beijing claims almost all of the South China Sea, within which is the smaller West Philippine Sea, and has ignored a 2016 international court ruling that its assertion has no legal basis.
"It is important, all the lawmakers... have already understood the importance of the Armed Forces of the Philippines to be modernized, for the Philippine Coast Guard to be able to have much more bigger ships," he said.
— With a report by RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News