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Friday, May 24, 2024

No more ‘secret’ funds?

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The power of the purse is vested in Congress.

All appropriation, revenue or tariff bills, and bills authorizing increase of the public debt, shall originate exclusively in the House of Representatives, but the Senate may propose or concur with amendments.

This is what the 1987 Constitution states in very clear terms.

Recently, not a few government agencies, but particularly the Office of the Vice President (OVP) and the Department of Education (DepEd), taking the cue apparently from the longstanding practice of allowing the President as Chief Executive and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces to enjoy the power and privilege of getting access to confidential and intelligence funds, invoked the same power and privilege.

Confidential funds, by their very nature, are those associated with surveillance aimed at supporting an agency’s operations. Confidential funds do not require disclosure of where the money goes, unlike other regular spending.

Intelligence funds, on the other hand, are usually spent by the military, police, and other uniformed personnel, as well as intelligence agencies, for information-gathering activities that have a direct impact on national security and public safety.

But questions have been raised as to why the OVP and DepEd should be getting confidential and intelligence funds when their mandates do not include surveillance operations or information-gathering on so-called enemies of the State, such as rebels bent on seizing political power through the barrel of the gun.

This is the mandate of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police as well as paramilitary forces created for the specific purpose of helping the military protect national sovereignty and territorial integrity and the police to maintain peace and order.

The House of Representatives, heeding public uproar that hundreds of millions of precious taxpayers’ money should not be spent for other projects or activities other than honest-to-goodness intelligence and confidential operations, is on the right track in deciding that henceforth such funds ought to go to agencies engaged in serious surveillance or intelligence-gathering activities related to securing the West Philippine Sea.

Hence, lawmakers have reached a consensus to reallocate the secret funds to the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency, National Security Council, Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, and Philippine Coast Guard.

It is true that confidential funds are prone to abuse precisely because they run counter to transparency and accountability that are hallmarks of good governance.

We understand that a House committee will soon delete the confidential and intelligence funds of no less than 10 agencies without any mandate to conduct surveillance and intelligence gathering.

This is the correct thing to do, since these agencies could secretly funnel such funds perhaps for partisan political activities, or make these simply disappear into private pockets when nobody’s looking.

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