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Friday, May 24, 2024

House to realign intel funds to agencies involved in WPS

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The increasing threats from China in the West Philippine Sea have prompted the House of Representatives to reallocate confidential and intelligence funds (CIF), including those intended for the Office of the Vice President and Department of Education, to agencies that operate in the threatened areas.

“The country’s safety and security are of paramount importance. To protect our territorial integrity from external threats, Congress is giving top priority to agencies directly in charge protecting the country’s safety and securing its borders,” said Rep. Elizaldy Co of Ako Bicol, chair of the House appropriations committee.

The committee decision followed the unanimous position of all party heads in the House of Representatives to augment funding for the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (NICA), the National Security Council (NSC), Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR).

“As discussed, 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.

“The CIFs from other departments and agencies will be realigned to the NSA, NICA, PCG and BFAR to boost the country’s monitoring and operational capabilities in protecting our territorial waters and securing the rights and access of Filipino fishermen to their traditional fishing grounds,” he added.

Co said among those to be affected by the budget cuts are the OVP and DepEd, which were allocated a combined amount of P650 million in confidential and intelligence funds under the 2024 National Expenditure Program.

“So far that’s what we have identified, but we’re still looking at other sources,” he said.

“The House leadership will exercise its mandate with care and determination to ensure that public funds are used properly and where the money is needed most for the good of the country,” Co added.

The joint statement issued on Wednesday by the House party heads reads: “Recognizing the rising security threats in the West Philippine Sea and the need to secure top officials, these agencies are better positioned to counteract security threats, protect our territorial waters, and secure the rights and access of Filipino fishermen to traditional fishing grounds.”

Data from the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) showed that total confidential and intelligence funds proposed for 2024 amounts to P10.142 billion. The amount is higher by P120 million than the P10.02 billion set aside for the CIF in 2023.

The DBM defines in the National Expenditure Program (NEP) intelligence funds as those “related to intelligence information gathering activities of uniformed and military personnel and intelligence practitioners” having direct impact to national security.

Confidential funds, on the other hand, are those “related to surveillance activities in civilian government agencies that are intended to support the mandate or operations of the agency.”

In the joint statement, the lawmakers said they view China’s recent installation of a floating barrier in Bajo de Masinloc “with serious concern” as it “not only impedes the rights and livelihoods of our Filipino fishermen but also disrupts the prevailing atmosphere of regional peace and collaboration.”

Senators, too, have agreed to reallocate funds to certain agencies for intelligence activities.

In a message to reporters, Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri said, “We have agreed in the Senate to do the same. We also will be reallocating funds that we feel are not necessary for the use of certain agencies and allocate them to our intelligence community as well as our Coast Guard and the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines).”

Asked if the confidential funds lodged with the Office of the Vice President and the Department of Education might be reallocated, Zubiri said: “We shall review all agencies.”

Earlier, Zubiri said the CIF in the proposed 2024 national budget allocated to government agencies which do not need the funding will be slashed and realigned by the Senate.

Under the proposed 2024 national budget, the CIF allocated to the Department of National Defense is only P97 million while NICA is alotted P341.2 million.

Zubiri said NICA and NSC will need additional intelligence funds to beef up the fight against cybercrime. He said the AFP will also need additional intelligence funds for its cybersecurity division for the same purpose.

Zubiri also vowed to augment the budget of the Defense Department, the AFP and the PCG to deal with the continuing Chinese incursions into the country’s exclusive economic zone.

“Courage can only take us so far. And that is why, if we really want to truly defend our country and our seas, we must support their budget. Not only the budget that they have now… We’re going to support, through the efforts of the Senate, an increase in their budget, especially in the defense spending,” Zubiri said.

Deputy Minority Leader Risa Hontiveros said funds from civilian agencies like the Department of Education should be transferred to the DND and NICA, to bolster the country’s intelligence gathering given Chinese bullying in the West Philippine Sea.

The DepEd, which has a confidential fund of P150 million , should instead focus on fulfilling its basic mandate of providing accessible, equitable and quality basic education, she said.

But Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel III stressed that confidential intelligence funds and intelligence funds are different.

He said CIFs are given to civilian agencies for surveillance activities which will help them pursue their mandate or function.

Intelligence funds are for law enforcement agencies or armed services involved in national security matters to gather intelligence.

Saying CIFs are just like mushrooms sprouting everywhere, Pimentel said they need to remove the unneeded ones from the budget.

“We need to purge the budget of unwarranted CIF allocations.” Pimentel said.

Ombudsman Samuel Martires on Wednesday offered to scrap his agency’s P51 million confidential fund, upon prodding by Senate minority leader Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III.

“If it will only taint the reputation of the Office and of the Ombudsman itself and its officers, I am even willing that this be scrapped,” he told Pimentel, repeating his statement before a House panel.

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