By Ashlee Manalang
The controversy surrounding Vice President Sara Duterte’s use of confidential and intelligence funds (CIFs) in the Philippines has flagged serious questions about transparency, legality, and accountability within the government. The allocation and expenditure of these confidential funds have become a subject of public concern, and rightfully so.
In 2022, opposition lawmakers rightfully questioned the manner in which Vice President Duterte accessed these funds. Some of these funds were allocated without the necessary congressional authorization by President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. They pointed out the absence of these funds in the 2021 budget and their allocation in the 2024 budget discussions.
Distinctly alarming is that these confidential funds are typically associated with security forces and intelligence operations. Their allocation and utilization must be carefully monitored to ensure that they are used for their intended purposes and that they do not fall into the wrong hands.
Records showed Duterte accessed these funds in December 2022 through a transfer initiated by Marcos’ office. Two opposition senators exposed this irregular use and raised concerns about the 2024 CIF request. Such concerns accentuate the need for greater scrutiny and oversight in the allocation of these funds, which should ideally be devoid of political influence.
The spokesperson for former Vice President Leni Robredo, Atty. Barry Gutierrez confirmed that their office hadn’t requested CIF in 2021, suggesting a legal violation. Former Senate President Drilon noted possible budget rule violations, pinpointing that these funds should not be used to augment non-existent budget items.
“There was no item. Since there was no item then, you could not augment. The key is augmentation. If there is zero budget, what can you augment? There is no deficiency in the item that needs augmentation,” Drilon stated.
Executive Secretary Lucas Bersamin confirmed that the Office of the President (OP) released a total of P221.4 million to President Duterte’s office in 2022, which included P125 million designated as confidential funds. This action was in line with Special Provision No. 1 within the 2022 Contingent Fund. President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. approved this transfer of P221 million, categorized under Maintenance and Other Operating Expenses (MOOE). Among this amount, P96.424 million was allocated for financial assistance or subsidies, and P125 million was designated for the confidential funds of newly established satellite offices, all of which were charged against the fiscal year 2022 contingent fund.
A day after admitting they couldn’t prove Vice President Sara Duterte’s misuse of P125 million in confidential funds, Gabriela Party-list Rep. Arlene Brosas insisted that the burden of proof now falls on Duterte. Brosas emphasized that the use of the P125-million confidential fund in 2022 lacked authorization, as it wasn’t in the 2022 General Appropriations Act. She asked Vice President Duterte to provide clear answers about how the fund was spent, addressing the concerns of the Filipino people.
“As to how the P125 million confidential fund was actually spent, the burden of proof squarely falls on Vice President Sara Duterte and not on Makabayan bloc. Unfortunately, VP Duterte still has not provided a straight answer which will address the concerns of the Filipino people,” she said.
This allegation elicited major uncertainties about the legality and transparency of such expenditures. The burden of proof now rests on Vice President Duterte to provide clarity and address the concerns of the Filipino public. The coming months will be telling, as the OVP’s allocation of confidential funds in 2024 will be closely monitored and scrutinized. Accountability and adherence to budgetary rules in the highest echelons of government need to be even more effectively applied.
Vice President Duterte, in her recent speech, justified that confidential funds are integral in ensuring Filipino citizens “can go about their daily lives without fear, and our children can receive an education in a safe environment, and our businesses can thrive without the shadow of insecurities.” She also stated that these funds serve as resources for the government to respond swiftly and effectively to unforeseen challenges, be it counterterrorism efforts or safeguarding the nation’s integrity.
The Vice President further warned that those who undermine the country’s security and progress also pose a threat to the very fabric of Philippine society. She encouraged the people of the Caraga Region to remain vigilant and resolute in safeguarding their fellow citizens and the nation as a whole.
The Office of the Vice President (OVP) is seeking PHP 500 million in confidential funds, while the Department of Education (DepEd) is seeking PHP150 million for expenditures in 2024. However, these budgetary demands have sparked dissent among opposition members in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, who find them superfluous and, in some cases, wasteful.
Confidential funds are often at the center of political debates, and this situation is no different. Advocates of these funds argue that they are “imperative” in national security maintenance and agile crisis resolution. The call for such a substantial allocation by the OVP indicates the perceived importance of these funds in their operations.
However, the opposition’s skepticism is not unwarranted. It is their duty, as representatives of the people, to scrutinize and question the allocation of public funds. They contend that in an age of transparency and accountability, the need for such extensive confidential funds should be thoroughly examined. The PHP500 million requested by the OVP, along with PHP150 million by DepEd, is a significant portion of public funds. Opposition members rightly raise questions about whether these sums are truly necessary or whether they could be better allocated elsewhere.
In a democracy, the tension between government bodies and the opposition is a root element of checks and balances. It ensures that taxpayer money is spent wisely and in the best interests of the Filipino people. Still, this debate shouldn’t get lost in political rhetoric and posturing. Both sides must engage in a constructive dialogue to conclude that benefits the nation as a whole.
In the end, the PHP500 million requested by the OVP and PHP150 million requested by DepEd are taxpayer dollars. The Filipino citizens deserve clarity and accountability in this matter. Only with openness and a commitment to adhering to legal procedures can this controversy be put to rest, and the Filipino people’s concerns be addressed.
The views expressed in this article belong to the authors alone and do not necessarily reflect those of Geopoliticalmonitor.com.