Former Senate President Franklin Drilon on Thursday raised suspicions that the controversial multibillion-peso confidential and intelligence funds (CIFs) were being misappropriated for unauthorized purposes such as to bankroll the operations of what he referred to as “troll farms.”
“Confidential, intelligence funds paying for troll farms? It’s not impossible,” Drilon said.
He also raised the possibility that the CIFs were being used for tokhang operations.
“It can be used for trolls. It can be used for tokhang operations. I am not saying that they were being used but because we are ignorant of how the funds are being used, we can’t help but speculate,” Drilon said.
Operation Tokhang was a code used by the Philippine National Police (PNP) for its bloody anti-drug operation by the previous administration that left thousands of suspected drug personalities dead.
Drilon said certain agencies have a wide latitude in using the CIFs, thus making it more susceptible to every kind of abuse and misuse.
According to the former Senate leader, he agreed with the observation of of Senator Risa Hontiveros that the CIF was being abused.
In a separate statement, Drilon said he does not rule out the possibility that the funds were used to hire troll armies due to the absence of documents and proof where they spent the money.
He recalled that the Senate had previously investigated the alleged use of government funds to hire troll armies and propagate fake news and misinformation.
Earlier, he called on the Senate to reconstitute the Select Oversight Committee on Confidential and Intelligence Funds.
“I am glad that Senator (Juan Miguel) Zubiri has heeded the advice that we made. We were the first ones to make the call for the revival of the committee,” Drilon said.
He added that the first order of business should be to convene the oversight panel.
“Hopefully, this administration will be more open to an executive session so that the Senate and the House of Representatives can make a proper judgment in the next cycle whether the CIFs are properly used or whether the agency is entitled to CIFs,” Drilon said.
He deplored that the agencies with CIF allocations have expanded in the proposed General Appropriations Act of 2023, the Marcos administration’s first budget.
In the proposed P5.268-trillion spending outlay for 2023, Drilon said there were seven agencies that do not have CIFs in the current budget, but were allocated with huge CIFs in the next year’s budget.
This includes the Office of the Vice President, the Department of Education, Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Department of Social Welfare and Development, Department of Foreign Affairs, the Office of the Solicitor General, and the Commission on Human Rights.
“In my book, we should take a good look at this. This is indeed something that we should be concerned about. This is subject to expansion and expansion. I cannot understand how you can justify intelligence funds for the DSWD or the OSG,” Drilon said.
He also said amendments could be made to realign the CFIs to more important programs.
“I am confident that there will be some realignment because we need so much for other areas of governance,” Drilon said, citing the budget for calamity response, ayuda, and livelihood, among other items that need more funding.
The Senate was seen to revive a committee that would exercise congressional oversight on confidential and intelligence funds (CIIF), which are slated to reach P9.3 billion for various agencies under President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s administration, Sen. Sonny Angara said Wednesday.
Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri has filed a resolution calling for the formation of a Select Oversight Committee to investigate government agencies’ use of their allocated confidential funds.
The proposed committee will be composed of three members—a senator from the majority and the minority, to be headed by the Senate President.
The 2023 General Appropriations Bill (GAB) marks P9,287,675,000 for confidential and intelligence funds—P4,330,048,000 marked as confidential funds and P4,957,627,000 as intelligence funds.
“According to Majo (Majority Leader Joel Villanueva) and SP (Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri), they will revive it after the budget [discussion],” Angara, chairman of the Senate finance committee, said in a text message to ABS-CBN.
Discussions on the revival of the oversight panel followed concerns from Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel III and Sen. Risa Hontiveros on the CIF.
The minority bloc is questioning the confidential funds allocated to agencies that have nothing to do with intelligence, information, or data-gathering activities, like the Office of the President, Office of the Vice President, and the Department of Education.
“It has long been the practice of the Senate to constitute a Select Oversight Committee for confidential and intelligence funds,” Zubiri said in filing his proposal.
Since the 10th Congress, he noted that the Senate has always formed the Select Oversight Committee, “and we are going to continue that for the 19th Congress.”
According to Zubiri, their job, “as an independent and democratic Senate, is to keep watch over the use of the national budget.”
“That is especially true for these sensitive funds, which are not subject to the usual auditing rules and procedures of the Commission on Audit,” he said.
As senators cannot identify the particulars of these funds’ usage ahead of time, Zubiri said the committee “is our way of subjecting these funds to checks and balances.”
“These funds are important in allowing our agencies to conduct necessary programs, operations, and activities for the safety and security of our people,” the Senate President said.
“But we need to be vigilant about how these funds are used, which will be the function of our Special Oversight Committee.”
Meanwhile, Sen. Raffy Tulfo asked why the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) has no intelligence funds.
In jest, Sen. Grace Poe, sponsor of the DICT’s proposed budget, replied, “naubos na raw siguro sa iba” (others have probably spent it).
Tulfo said many agencies do not need intelligence funds but have been getting millions. He noted that DICT needs intelligence funds to fight cybercrime, “especially with the many scammers around us.”
Poe agreed to push to provide intelligence funds to DICT, saying it is crucial for the department “to monitor the security of our people.”
While DICT does not have its own intelligence funds, she said telecommunications companies like Smart and Globe have funds to make their own investigations, subject to court approval.
But Tulfo insisted that DICT needs its own intelligence funds instead of depending on telcos.
Former senator Panfilo Lacson said the Senate created the oversight committee in May 2017 through Resolution 361, with then-senator Gregorio “Gringo” Honasan designated as the panel’s chairman.
Honasan had sponsored the resolution that cited threats to the country’s “national security, including disturbance to peace and order by lawless elements, and the importance of gathering intelligence information by concerned government agencies.”
The committee allows the Senate to “continue exercising its oversight functions over the use, disbursement, and expenditures of confidential and intelligence funds granted to certain government agencies; and to provide vigilant legislative oversight over the conduct of these activities.”
Before its 2017 adoption, the oversight committee also existed in the 10th to 16th Congress.