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Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Sara defends large security group, P500-m proposed confidential funds

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The Office of the Vice President (OVP) has defended the large number of security personnel for Vice President and Education Secretary Sara Duterte last year after the Commission on Audit (COA) made no negative comments about the issue in its 2022 report.

The OVP reportedly had 433 security escorts in 2022, making up 63 percent of its personnel, as opposed to only 78 under former Vice President Leni Robredo.

“It will make our work in the Office of the Vice President more efficient and quicker with the vice presidential security and protection group,” Duterte said in an interview.

Duterte justified the huge increase, saying they will accomplish more because the office would not have to depend on other national government agencies when it comes to questions on trends of security.

“This will help secure successful implementation of the programs, projects and activities, and engagements in the OVP,” she added.

BUDGET HEARING. Sen. Imee Marcos and Vice President and concurrent Education Secretary Sara Duterte exchange pleasantries at the sideline of the public hearing by the Committee on Finance on the proposed 2024 allocation for the Office of the Vice President. FB photo

The Vice President security group was created by Duterte to have a group independent from the Presidential Security Group (PSG) of Malacanang.

It will provide all future Philippine Vice Presidents with necessary security and protection, an inevitable task to perform should the Vice President and the President face the misfortune of having a strained or broken relationship brought about by political differences like that seen in the previous administration.

The COA made no adverse findings on the creation of the Vice Presidential Security and Protection Group.

The Senate committee on finance has also approved the 2023 budget for the OVP at P2.385 billion, with a P500 million confidential fund.

“We can live without confidential funds, but of course, our work will be much easier if we have the flexibility of confidential funds in monitoring the safe, secure, and successful implementation of the programs and projects of the OVP,” Duterte said.

Duterte is also the Secretary of the Department of Education, the co-vice chairperson of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict, and President of the Southeast Asia Ministers of Education Organization.

The P500 million confidential funds, Duterte said, was for a safe, secured and successful implementation of their projects, programs, activities and engagements of the OVP

Testifying during the Senate deliberations on the proposed P2.385 billion OVP budget for 2024, Duterte stressed however, they can survive even without the confidential funds.

At this point, Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel III grilled Duterte why they included in their proposed budget the request for confidential funds after manifesting the OVP can live without it.

Duterte told the Senate Finance committee chaired by Sen. Juan Edgardo Angara that their work would be much easier if they have the flexibility of confidential funds in monitoring the safe, secure, and successful implementations of the programs and projects and activities of the OVP.

The Vice President also said she leave it to the members of Congress whether to grant or not their confidential funds.

Pimentel also pressed Duterte on the legal basis in asking for confidential funds to which Duterte cited Joint Circular 2015-01.

“Confidential expenses are allowed for all civilian offices, including the Department of Education. This has solid legal basis as provided under DBM Joint Circular 2015-01,” she said.

The threats to the learning environment, safety, and security of DepEd personnel are interlocking with the mandate of support to the national security of civilian offices, Duterte added.

Pimentel also noted that only P125 million of the P221 million confidential funds of the OVP in 2022 was liquidated.

“How do we justify this?” Pimentel asked.

Duterte asserted however that there was nothing irregular in the utilization of the P125 million worth of confidential expenses in 2022 even if it was not provided under last year’s General Appropriations Act (GAA).

She said they requested for the funds from the Office of the President, and was granted through the DBM.

Earlier in the hearing, Sen. Risa Hontiveros questioned Duterte on the use of confidential funds, to which Duterte replied, “perceived threats.”

But she said this will depend on the assessment of the military and the police.

Hontiveros said the OVP has the biggest allocation among government agencies. The Office of the President has P2,250 million and P2,310 million confidential and intelligence funds.

She maintained there was no need for a separate intelligence funds for the OVP as this might result to redundancy and duplication efforts of agencies assigned to conduct intelligence and surveillance gathering.

Sen. Imee Marcos inquired into the more than 400 security personnel detailed at the OVP under the VPSPG.

Asst. chief of staff Lemuel Ortinio confirmed there were 433 VPSPG personnel which intends to provide security services to the incumbent and future vice presidents.

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