Bicam panel: ‘0’ secret funds for OVP, Deped
Lawmakers comprising the bicameral conference committee on Wednesday sealed the fate of the controversial confidential funds for the offices under Vice President Sara Duterte, retaining the versions of both the Senate and the House of Representatives that deleted the allotment and realigned these for use by intelligence and security agencies.
At a press briefing, Sen. Juan Edgardo Angara said the bicameral panel stood by the House and Senate versions of the P5.77-trillion 2024 General Appropriations Bill (GAB) that removed Duterte’s confidential funds.
However, the panel retained the P9.8 billion in confidential and intelligence funds (CIF) lodged with the Office of the President (OP).
“[The CIF] of the Office of the President is unchanged,” Angara said.
“By and large, the bicam panel adopted the House version which realigned [the CIF] of some civilian agencies to security agencies,” he said after convening the committee tasked to harmonize disagreeing provisions of both versions of the GAB at the Manila Golf Club in Makati.
The bicameral conference committee is tasked to harmonize the conflicting provisions of the versions of House Bill No. 8980, or the 2024 GAB, approved by the House and the Senate.
Angara dismissed suspicions that Duterte’s confidential fund would be restored by the “small committee” formed by the bicameral panel to sift through the details and craft the final version of the spending bill for next year.
“I don’t think so. What was discussed, I think, was the restoration of the [Department of Information and Communications Technology] for increased cybersecurity in the country … [the DICT is] appealing that a portion of their confidential fund be restored, and that is what I and Chairman Zaldy are discussing,” Angara said, referring to his cochair from the House contingent, Rep. Elizaldy Co.
Angara said they would also consult with Sen. Grace Poe, chair of the Senate committee on public services, on whether she agrees with the request to raise the confidential fund of the DICT.
“Because as we know, the battlefield no longer involves gunfights but the danger of someone having the ability to disable our cybernetworks, and as consumers, we transact online and if such facility is cut, we’re crippled [and] our economy will come to a halt,” he said.
Fund for uncertain times
The action by the congressional panel finally ends the controversy stirred by Duterte’s secret fund, which has gained public rebuke after it was originally proposed by the Executive Branch in its proposed National Expenditure Program (NEP).
Under the original NEP, the OVP sought P500 million in confidential funds, while another P150 million was allotted for the Department of Education (DepEd), which Duterte heads in a concurrent capacity.
Angara had said that the Senate adopted the House version that scrapped the allotment for the OVP and diverted it to augment the intended funding for security agencies, while that for DepEd was realigned to finance the agency’s regular items.
Last year, the bicameral conference committee restored the controversial P150 million in confidential funds of DepEd after this was deleted in both House and Senate versions of the 2023 GAB.
Angara said that while there were discussions to reduce the confidential and intelligence funds of the OP, the bicameral panel agreed not to pursue it.
“According to the OP, they need the funds especially since these times are very uncertain, with wars happening and many incidents of terrorism, hijacking, kidnapping,” he noted.
Angara also pointed out that while the committee did not reduce the CIF of the President, it also did not increase it from the original proposal.
“The amounts stayed at that same level [as originally proposed] and while the budget of the OP increased, we did not increase the CIF,” he said.
The bicameral panel and its small committee have about two weeks to go through the details and prepare the final version that will be up for ratification as the enrolled bill of the 2024 General Appropriations Act, according to Angara.
“There’s still a lot to reconcile, such as funds on the same items are either realigned or altered, so we need to discuss and agree,” he said, declining to provide details.
Another member of the Senate panel, Sen. JV Ejercito, also allayed apprehension on the possible restoration of confidential funds that have already been deleted in the GAB.
“I don’t think it will be [restored]. This has already been decided by the Senate, while in the House, I don’t see any reason [or] justification that they will push for it and then restore it in the bicam,” he said.
The bicameral committee has taken a “consistent” stand to take out all items on the confidential fund in all civilian agencies, Ejercito said.
“As of now, what I know is that none of these has been restored. We have taken on the policy that all civilian agencies having confidential or intelligence funds, these would rather be placed in line or specific items to allow us to readily see the purpose,” he said.
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