MANILA — The announced reallocation of confidential funds to agencies monitoring the West Philippine Sea is welcome but the government should also put more funding in agencies that provide basic services, Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman said Saturday.
Discussions in Congress on confidential funds as well as recent incidents with China in the West Philippine Sea led House leaders this week to announce that confidential funds for some civilian agencies will be put into the Philippine Coast Guard, the fisheries bureau and intelligence agencies instead.
"Ako ay hindi tumututol sa pag-reallocate sa mga agencies na nagpo-protect ng Philippine interests sa West Philippine Sea. Pero wag masyadong marami, sapagkat the funds should be reallocated to basic agencies like education, itong labor, itong agriculture at other services," he said on TeleRadyo Serbisyo.
(I am not opposed to reallocating these to agencies protecting Philippine interests in the West Philippine Sea. But let us not put too much into them because funds should be reallocated to basic agencies like education, labor, agriculture and other services.)
Lagman said money should be allocated for school site acquisition since it has become too expensive for local governments and for civil society to donate land for schools.
"Ano ang gagawin mo sa budget ng school building kung walang school site?"
(What will you do with a budget for a school building when you have no site to build it on?)
He added that more money could also be put into the Assistance to Individuals in Crisis Situations program of the Department of Social Welfare and Development and the emergency employment program of the Department of Labor and Employment.
"Sa Department of Health, dagdagan natin yung medical assistance program," he said.
(Let us increase the medical assistance program of the Department of Health.)
Other peaceful means needed in WPS
Confidential funds have been in the news as Congress works out the proposed national budget for 2024.
Lawmakers in the minority blocs of both chambers have questioned the allocation of these funds to agencies like the Office of the Vice President, Department of Education, the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority and Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office that do not have surveillance operations in their primary mandates.
Lagman said that while increased intelligence funding to monitor the West Philippine Sea is good, the Philippines will need other avenues to resolve issues with China over the West Philippine Sea — the part of the South China Sea within the Philippines' exclusive economic zone and continental shelf.
"No amount of confidential fund can tame a bully. No amount of confidential funds can resolve the issue of Chinese existence and occupancy of Philippine territories in the the West Philippine Sea," he said.
He said the Philippines can work with the international community on "other peaceful means" to assert the 2016 arbitral ruling on the South China Sea.