VP Sara Duterte: Secret funds’ critics ‘enemies of the people’
Amid the uproar over her use of confidential funds as former mayor of Davao City and as the second highest official in the country, Vice President Sara Duterte tried a familiar tack used by her father, former President Rodrigo Duterte, against critics—labeling those who oppose her request for secret funds as “enemies of the people.”
Her critics who demand transparency in her use of confidential funds immediately fired back, saying she was employing a “classic gaslighting tactic” instead of giving an accounting of how she used those funds.
In a speech during a police service anniversary ceremony in Agusan del Norte province on Wednesday, Duterte, who also heads the Department of Education (DepEd), defended her requests for confidential funds.
She said the funds were “crucial” in “ensuring the security and development of our beloved nation” and would allow her offices “to respond promptly to security threats.”
“Anyone who attacks or undermines funds allocated for peace and order is naturally assumed to have insidious motivations,” the Vice President said.
She is asking for P500 million and P150 million in confidential funds for the Office of the Vice President (OVP) and DepEd, respectively, next year.
“Those who seek to compromise the security and development of our nation jeopardize the very fabric of our society and hinder our progress,” she said.
“Makinig kayo sa lahat ng sinasabi sa palibot ninyo at tandaan ninyo: kung sino man kumokontra sa confidential funds ay kumokontra sa kapayapaan. Kung sino ang kumokontra sa kapayapaan ay kalaban ng bayan (Listen to everything the people around you are saying and remember: whoever opposes confidential funds is opposed to peace. Whoever is opposed to peace is an enemy of the people),” she said.
Speaker: ‘We are one’
Reacting to Duterte’s speech, Speaker Martin Romualdez told reporters on Thursday following a trip to Pag-asa Island, the biggest of about nine islands and reefs occupied by the Philippines in the West Philippine Sea, that he agreed with the Vice President.
“So, yes, we are one with the Vice President in having to make sure that confidential and intelligence funds, you know, are always part of the equation and of course, best left with the agencies and departments that are most and best-suited,” he said.
He added that the House was “making sure” that confidential and intelligence funds were spent in a “transparent” and “most appropriate manner” and “properly deployed for the West Philippine [Sea] issues.”
The House of Representatives approved the P5.7-trillion national budget for 2024 on Sept. 27. The House leadership, however, vowed to realign confidential funds from civilian offices to agencies tasked with protecting the West Philippine Sea.
These agencies include the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency, the National Security Council, the Philippine Coast Guard and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources to help them protect Philippine waters and Filipino fishermen.
Davao funds crop up
As the 2024 budget was being deliberated, Duterte’s use of P125 million in confidential funds in 2022 despite the absence of a line item for it in the 2022 national budget and the P2.697-billion secret funds she spent when she was Davao mayor from 2016 to 2022 came to light.
That again sparked the debate on whether civilian agencies that have no national defense and security mandates should have access to such funds.
According to the Constitution, the Vice President’s main mandate is to take the reins of government when the President is unable to perform his job due to death, illness, resignation or impeachment.
Some of her critics were aghast at Duterte’s new tack in defending her secret funds, saying only a “fascist” could interpret demands for transparency as a security threat.
“We have now reached the point where seeking transparency and accountability in government funds is now considered a threat to peace and security,” said Bayan president Renato Reyes. “Only a fascist mindset will consider opponents of corruption as enemies of the state.”
Opposition lawmakers at the House on Thursday recalled Duterte’s earlier statement that she “can live without confidential funds.”
“Why is she now fighting tooth and nail just to retain her secret confidential funds?” said House Deputy Minority Leader and ACT Teachers Rep. France Castro.
The Makabayan bloc lawmaker said that the Vice President had not offered an explanation on how she spent her P125-million confidential fund last year.
“Why is she now gaslighting those who want transparency and accountability in the spending of public funds?” Castro said.
During the House plenary debates on the proposed budgets of the OVP and DepEd, Duterte, through her budget sponsor Davao de Oro Rep. Carmen Zamora, said she would submit “to the discretion and wisdom of Congress” in determining the fate of her secret funds.
Castro said that by her recent statements, Duterte was saying that senators and House members opposed to her confidential funds have “insidious motivations.”
“Another essence from her statement is that she was telling the police to treat all critics of her confidential funds as ‘enemies of the state.’ It is like a wholesale Red-tagging and gaslighting,” Castro pointed out.
“Instead of trying to justify her illegal confidential fund spending in 2022 and asking for more secret funds, VP Duterte should concentrate on how to improve the dismal state of education now,” she added.
Another opposition lawmaker, Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, told Duterte on World Teachers’ Day on Thursday that “we should be reminded that schools are temples of knowledge, not arenas of surveillance.”
“The secretary of education must be a teacher, not a centurion,” he said.
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