Metro Manila, Philippines – Senators are considering the realignment of ₱50 million in confidential funds allotted to the Department of Agriculture (DA) under the 2024 National Expenditure Program (NEP).

Upon questioning by Sen. Raffy Tulfo during the DA budget hearing on Thursday, agriculture officials told the Senate finance panel that the DA was allotted ₱50 million in confidential funds for surveillance against anti-smuggling operations and law enforcement

“Nung lumabas ‘yung NEP [When the NEP came out], they (Department of Budget and Management) allocated ₱50 million confidential funds to be dedicated to surveillance operations for anti-smuggling operations,” DA Asec. James Layug said.

Perplexed, Tulfo pointed out that surveillance of agricultural smugglers and law enforcement fell under the mandate of the Bureau of Customs, the Philippine National Police, and the Department of Justice.

He then urged the DA to surrender its confidential funds so that these could be realigned to agencies such as the Philippine Coast Guard that is on the front line of defending the country’s sovereignty in the West Philippine Sea amid China’s escalating aggression.

“We will make the adjustment, realignment [of the confidential funds],” Sen. Cynthia Villar, chairperson of the Senate agriculture panel, said after Tulfo’s interpellation.

Later on in the budget hearing, Layug asked senators to reconsider their proposed realignment of the DA’s secret funds.

“When we discussed if the department can really use the confidential funds to also investigate, especially as we have quarantine powers under the Food Safety Law and Price Act, and even in the Meat Code, we are mandated to conduct market surveillance and inspection,” he said.

Layug added that the Food and Safety and Regulation Agencies also needed support to strengthen the DA’s surveillance operations.

As Tulfo had already left the hearing, Villar told Layug: “I want to comment that if Sen. Tulfo will make a big issue out of it, you just follow [up] with him in what you will do with the ₱50 million allocation.”

“I don’t want to be answering Sen. Tulfo because of your ₱50-million allocation,” Villar added. “You be creative and give him the benefit of having that ₱50 million realigned.”

Once the DA’s budget reaches the Senate plenary, lawmakers can amend the allocations and remove the agency’s confidential funds.

Confidential funds are allocated to civilian government agencies for the purpose of surveillance activities, but they have caught flak for their lack of transparency.

Vice President Sara Duterte, in particular, has drawn public ire because civilian agencies under her, the Office of the Vice President and the Department of Education, asked for massive amounts of secret funds supposedly for the “safety and security” of the Filipino people.