Guardians of WPS to get VP Dutere’s secret funds – House

Rep. Elizaldy Co | PHOTO: Official facebook page of Rep. Elizaldy Co


Manila, Philippines — The House of Representatives will realign part of the P650 million in confidential funds for 2024 requested by Vice President Sara Duterte, who also heads the Department of Education, to agencies protecting the country’s interest in the West Philippine Sea (WPS).

Ako Bicol party-list Rep. Elizaldy Co, the chair of the House appropriations committee, made the announcement on Wednesday, amid mounting criticism of the allocation of large secret funds to offices with no mandate for national security.

The leaders of top political blocs in the chamber also separately called for the reallocation of the hard-to-audit funds to agencies with surveillance or intelligence-gathering requirements.

“We will realign the confidential funds of various civilian agencies. Now is the time to give our intelligence community the means to perform their duties, especially in these pressing times when we’re facing serious concerns in the West Philippine Sea,” Co said.

In an earlier message to the Inquirer, Co said his panel concurred with the call of his colleagues to have the secret funds reapportioned to address fresh tensions between Manila and Beijing in the West Philippine Sea, or waters within the country’s 370-kilometer exclusive economic zone.

According to Co, the proposed P500 million in confidential funds for the Office of the Vice President (OVP) and P150 million for the Department of Education (DepEd), both led by Duterte, were being eyed for realignment.

“Yes. We agree to this more pressing issue and provide funding for the West Philippine Sea issue. We are at a consensus to support the West Philippine Sea as one nation,” Co said.

He added that the realigned funds would be used for the confidential and intelligence expenses of the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (Nica), National Security Council (NSC), Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR), and Philippine Coast Guard (PCG).”

Asked to identify funding sources, Co said: “It’s OVP and DepEd, as of now.”

Party leaders

The House deliberated on the OVP’s proposed P2.38-billion budget and DepEd’s P758.59 billion for next year during Wednesday’s plenary session.

Duterte was in attendance but could not directly address the body under House rules. Instead, the sponsor of the OVP budget, Davao de Oro Rep. Maria Carmen Zamora, spoke on her behalf, saying she would respect the lawmakers’ decision.

“The OVP is consistent on its stand that it submits to the discretion and wisdom of Congress. With the development mentioned, the OVP again would submit to the wisdom of Congress,” Zamora, vice chair of the appropriations panel, said in response to a question on whether she was willing to forgo the funds.

She gave a similar answer to Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman who asked whether Duterte was “transferring the onus or responsibility of appropriating to Congress.”

“The vice president believes that the power of the purse is with the House,” Zamora said.

The exchange took place after top leaders of Lakas-Christian Muslim Democrats (CMD), Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban), Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC), Nacionalista Party and National Unity Party (NUP) had pledged to divert secret funds from agencies with no need of them.

“Given recent provocative incidents in the contested areas, we have decided to reallocate — as part of the budget process —  confidential and intelligence funds to other agencies chiefly responsible for intelligence and surveillance,” the statement read in part.

Confidential funds are earmarked for an agency’s surveillance-related activities while intelligence funds are for gathering information related to national security. The former may be released upon approval of the agency head or department secretary while the latter is subject to the President’s approval.

But the use of either fund has been widely criticized as a source of corruption because they are not subject to the usual audit by the Commission on Audit.

In their statement, the party leaders expressed “serious concern” about China’s installation of floating barriers in Panatag Shoal, also called Scarborough Shoal or Bajo de Masinloc, last weekend.

The PCG later cut off the barriers in a special operation, but the incident was only the latest in a series of tense encounters between Chinese and Philippine forces and vessels in the disputed waters.

No speaker signature

The statement was signed by Rizal Rep. Michael John Duavit of NPC, Surigao del Sur Rep. Johnny Pimentel of PDP-Laban, Agusan del Norte Rep. Jose Aquino II, secretary general of Lakas-CMD, Camarines Sur Rep. Luis Raymund Villafuerte Jr. of NUP, Romblon Rep. Eleandro Madrona and Barangay Health Workers Rep. Angelica Natasha Co.

Lakas-CMD’s president, Speaker Martin Romualdez, was not among the signatories.

The lawmakers said their united stance “is a testament to our commitment to uphold the principles of democracy, prioritize the needs of the Filipino people, and ensure the prudent and rational use of the nation’s resources.”

The party leaders issued the statement amid growing criticism over the P10.14 billion in confidential and intelligence funds lodged in the P5.77-trillion proposed budget for next year.

Almost half of this sum, or P4.56 billion, is in the proposed budget of the Office of the President.

In House Bill No. 8980 or the General Appropriations Bill, BFAR, which protects the welfare of Filipino fisherfolk in disputed seas, has no allocation for confidential and intelligence funds.

Nica has an allocation of P1 million in confidential funds and P340.2 million in intelligence funds, while the NSC has P120 million in confidential funds for next year.

The PCG, on the other hand, has an allocation of P10 million in intelligence funds for 2024, the same amount it received over the past several years.

On Tuesday, PCG spokesperson Commodore Jay Tarriela posted a table showing that from 2006 to 2023, the PCG was given P118.725 million in intelligence funds over the 17-year period.

Inquirer Research also found that from 2005 to 2012, the OVP’s confidential funds amounted to only P6 million a year until it ballooned under Duterte. In 2023, the OVP received P500 million in secret funds while DepEd got P150 million, the same amounts the offices are seeking for next year.

‘Frugal amounts’

The OVP had no confidential funds under former Vice President Leni Robredo, but it recently came to light that after Duterte took over in June 2022, she sought an additional P403.46 million in funding to augment her expenses for the remainder of that year, more than half of it, or P250 million, in confidential funds.

She was granted only P221.42 million of the total request, of which P125 million was for confidential expenses.

Also on Wednesday, Lagman said he agreed that Congress should realign the confidential and intelligence funds to agencies involved in protecting the West Philippine Sea but only in “frugal amounts.”

But “the agencies not entitled to confidential and intelligence funds pursuant to their mandate must be totally deprived of these secret funds,” Lagman told the Inquirer.