President Rodrigo Duterte is asking Congress to authorize P8.28 billion of the government’s proposed P4.1-trillion national budget for 2020 on surveillance alone—the highest during his term so far.
As it stands, the 2020 national budget will be the highest in Philippine history.
This, despite questions by critics on the use of intelligence information by the Duterte administration.
According to the Budget of Expenditures and Sources of Financing attached to the National Expenditure Program (NEP) submitted to the House of Representatives, the Duterte administration allocated P5.57 billion in intelligence and confidential funds in 2017—the first budget written and prepared by the administration. The surveillance budget spiked to P8.16 billion in 2018, before going down to P7.032 billion in 2019 and then to P8.28 billion in 2020.
Duterte’s surveillance funds dwarf even the surveillance budget of the military and police, as well as the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (NICA). Duterte alone controls more than half of what his government hopes to spend on surveillance in 2020—about P4.5 billion.
This is because as commander-in-chief, Duterte gets P2.25 billion in intelligence plus P2.25 billion in confidential expenses in 2020.
On the other hand, for their 2020 intelligence funds, the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG)-Philippine National Police (PNP) gets only P806.02 million, the Department of National Defense (DND) and Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) get only P1.7 billion, the Department of Transportation which controls the Philippine Coast Guard has P10 million, while the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency gets only P20.2 nillion.
The intelligence funds of the DND/AFP, broken down, are as follows: Office of the Secretary, P10 million; Philippine Army, P444 million; Philippine Air Force, P17 million; Philippine Navy, P39.7 million; and General Headquarters, P1.18 million.
Duterte’s confidential funds—at P2.25 billion—also dwarf the confidential funds of other agencies in government.
Agencies with confidential funds are: Department of Environment and Natural Resources (P13.95 million), Department of Finance (P80.5 million), Department of Foreign Affairs (P50 million), Department of Interior and Local Government (P80.6 million), Department of Justice including the Bureau of Immigration and National Bureau of Investigation (P357.64 million), Department of National Defense (P23 million), Department of Transportation including the Philippine Coast Guard (P6.67 million), the Commission on Audit (P10 million), Ombudsman (P33.7 million), and the Commission on Human Rights (P1 million).
The Makabayan bloc earlier expressed fears over the rising levels of government spending on surveillance.
"Take this proposed intelligence budget with the proposed amendments to the Human Security Act (HSA) along with the PNP's and AFP's push for the revival of the Anti-Subversion Law and the militarization of campuses, then these would effectively make the whole Philippines as a police state. De facto martial law sa buong bansa ang mangyayari sa atin nito," said House Deputy Minority leader and Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate.
Zarate last Tuesday expressed concerns that intelligence funds, along with the budget of the military and police, may just be used in "red-tagging".
“In the past, ano ba ginagawa nila? To villify progresisve organizations including (members of the) the Makabayan bloc who are in Congress,” he said.
Even Vice President Leni Robredo called on the government to justify the increased spending on intelligence.
Duterte’s spokesperson, Salvador Panelo, has tried to explain the increased intelligence spending, insisting it simply made more sense for the President to corner a huge chunk of the money. “Eh siguro—I do not know exactly the reason; but if you will ask me, I’ll be using my common sense by saying that you really need money if you want to secure your country. And the Office of the President is one of the better offices that can secure the security of the land.”
Panelo belittled concerns that more money should have been given to the intelligence funds of uniformed personnel, who have the primary deliverable of securing the public.
"Iisa lang naman ‘yan, they are still within the Office of the President, lahat sila," he said.
An official of the Department of Budget and Management (DBM), meanwhile, said last Tuesday that the increase in intelligence funds sought by the Office of the President for 2020 is justified.
"It is--to us--justified because we ourselves are not privy to the extent of national security issues," said DBM acting Secretary Wendel Avisado.
But Avisado could not give further details on how the additional funds would be used. He said he leaves it up to the President to share the current situation of the country in light of threats and issues affecting the country's exclusive economic zone in the West Philippine Sea, which is being claimed by China in near entirety.
The General Provisions of the NEP define intelligence expenses as those related to intelligence information-gathering activities of uniformed and military personnel, and intelligence practitioners that have direct impact to national security.
Agencies using intelligence funds are required to submit to the President of the Philippines a quarterly report on the accomplishments in the use of said funds.
Implementation is subject to Commission on Audit-DBM-DILG-Government Commission on GOCCs-DND Joint Circular No 2015-01 dated January 8, 2015.
On the other hand, confidential expenses refer to those related to surveillance activities in civilian government agencies that are intended to support the mandate or operations of the agency.
Confidential funds are disbursed only upon approval of the department secretary concerned, according to Section 75 of the General Provisions.
Agencies using confidential funds are required to submit to the President of the Philippines and both Houses of Congress a quarterly report on the accomplishments in the use of said funds.