OVP, DepEd confidential funds should be given to other agencies, programs: senator

Sherrie Ann Torres, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Sep 30 2022 09:41 PM | Updated as of Oct 01 2022 12:06 AM

Joseph Vidal/Senate PRIB
Vice President Sara Duterte, through an audio-visual presentation Thursday, September 29, 2022, defends the proposed P2.31 billion budget of the Office of the Vice President for 2023. Joseph Vidal/Senate PRIB

MANILA (UPDATED) — Confidential funds (CF) sought by the Office of the Vice President (OVP) and the Department of Education (DepEd) both headed by Vice President Sara Duterte must be transferred to other agencies or programs, Senate Minority Leader Aquilino "Koko" Pimentel III said Friday.

The senator made the recommendation a day after the two agencies' proposed budgets for next year were unanimously approved by the Senate finance committee.

"Ilipat na natin (ang CF) sa program or activity related to education, or the teaching to our learners or our children. Para walang problema, o chalk allowance, dagdagan. Kasi tulong sa mga teachers yun. Or purchase ba ng libro?... yung mismong directed to teaching. Hindi indirectly," Pimentel said.

"If you stick to the purpose, ilipat mo na yan sa mga agencies na directly concerned with national security, and related intel gathering or surveillance needed to protect or promote national security... but, if you want to retain to the agency, ilipat na natin siya to an activity or program directly related to education," he added.

Pimentel said this is his first time to hear that DepEd will be given confidential or intelligence funds.

The OVP has a P500 million CF while the DepEd has P150 million CF in its proposed 2023 budget.

"We discourage lump sum amounts kasi, prone to possible abuse yun eh, saka hindi sya ganun ka-transparent. Because hindi sya ganun ka-transparent, prone to possible abuse," Pimentel told journalists.

Pimentel said he is also referring to the CF and intelligence funds being given to other agencies which should not be covered by these lump sum funds.

Pimentel meantime urged his fellow senators to take the cue from the Vice President herself who already said that she will not insist on getting such fund if lawmakers will find it unnecessary.

"Tingnan na natin 'yung other agencies involved in national security. Do you need augmentation in your confidential or intelligence funds? Pag sagot ay hindi, huwag na natin pilitin," Pimentel.

"So we free up P500 million for other expenses. Yung mga 'wish lists' ng mga iba-ibang ahensya. Like ako, pinapadaanan ko yung wish list ng Judiciary. Justice system, importante yun," he added.

POGO FUNDS FOR CFS

Pimentel, meanwhile, said it's time to totally ban Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGOs) in the Philippines.

His statement was in reaction to Sen. Ronald "Bato" dela Rosa's earlier pronouncement that he will likely recommend to the President to either totally ban POGOs or allow the legal ones to operate in a confined area.

"Ang challenge to Congress, do we change policies... What is the easier policy to implement... Huwag na nating pahirapan ang buhay natin, defending or justifying an activity na hindi naman din kanais-nais sa reputasyon ng bansa. Tapos kahit yung kapit-bahay natin na China ayaw nila yung activity na yun," Pimentel stressed.

POGOs cater to Chinese nationals who are into gambling. Gambling activities, however, are illegal in China.

"Let us go for the policy which is easier to implement. Total ban of offshore gaming," Pimentel said.

He maintained that social cost and "international reputation damage" would still be greater as compared to the revenue loss that government will face in the event that POGO will be totally banned in the country.

"Worth it ba yun? Ako priceless yun eh, immeasurable itong social cost eh. Kung may namatay, may nasaktan, yung buhay ng taong yun, kahit foreigner pa yun, hindi na maibabalik. Hihintayin pa ba natin na mag-enjoy masyado dito yung mga foreign gangsters na pag maubusan na sila ng foreign victim, sabihin nila, Pilipino naman?" he pointed out.

That P5 billion to P7 billion projected revenue loss, he said, can actually be replaced if the government will only reduce its confidential and intelligence fund for unnecessary agencies.

The government collections on POGOs are much lower than the initially projected P30-50 billion, Pimentel said.

"Budget deficit naman tayo parati, nakakautang naman tayo, ang daming confidential fund diyan, P9 billion yata iyan, close to P10 billion yung intelligence and confidential fund," the senator said.