MANILA -- The Senate on Wednesday kicked off its plenary debates on the proposed 2023 budget amounting to P5.268 trillion, with Senate Minority Leader Koko Pimentel raising concerns regarding the grant of confidential funds to some civilian agencies.
Pimentel said confidential and intelligence funds in the proposed 2023 amount to a total of P9.3 billion.
Confidential funds are allowed for all civilian agencies for their surveillance and intelligence gathering activities. Intelligence funds, meanwhile, are for intelligence information-gathering activities of security agencies.
Pimentel particularly flagged the confidential funds granted to the Office of the Vice President (P500 million), Department of Education (P150 million), and the Office of the Solicitor General (P19.2 million).
The 3 agencies were granted confidential funds at one one point, but "not in modern times,' he said.
"Kung pupuwede wag na umpisahan muli kasi pag naumpisahan na mahirap na hintuin eh. Paulit-ulit na to eh. Then every year parang commitment na," he said.
He added: "If we are prioritizing expenditures, hindi po ba mas maganda na idala na lang natin ito sa mas importanteng mga gastusin ng ating bansa, yung mga pangangailangan ng taumbayan ngayon: pagkain, ayuda, trabaho, kalusugan."
Sen. Sonny Angara, Senate Finance committee chairman, argued the need for such funds.
"The confidential and intelligence funds contribute to expenditures, which contributes to security, which is the bedrock for prosperity," he said.
He said the funds afford the agencies flexibility for their projects.
"What is good about intelligence and confidential funds is the flexibility they provide. The head of agency has the flexibility to decide what is the contingency they tend to meet… If we put it in a specific line item there is no more flexibility," he said.
Pimentel proposed that agencies granted confidential funds be required to submit to Congress periodic reports on their usage, but Angara shot down the suggestion.
"It would no longer be confidential if we require it," Angara said.