The recent armed conflict between Israel and the pro-Palestine Hamas extremist group in the Israeli-held Gaza Strip has hogged the headlines.
Iran, a Middle Eastern country known for its staunch anti-Israel stance, is fanning the flames of war by urging Arab states to join the conflict, or to at least support Hamas.
Russia’s war in Ukraine has caused world oil prices to skyrocket. A simultaneous war in the Middle East will more than triple the current cost of petroleum.
At least four Filipino migrant workers in Gaza have been killed in the conflict.
The news media in the Philippines are so focused on the situation in Israel that it seems to have overlooked a very important accomplishment of the House of Representatives of Congress under the leadership of Speaker Martin Romualdez.
I speak of the recent controversy regarding the confidential and intelligence funds (CIFs) sought by a number of government offices from the House, when Congress was preparing the national budget for 2024.
Last year, at the height of the election season, taxpayers failed to notice that several executive departments had been spending government money listed under CIFs. The total amount involved is in the billions of pesos.
This year, as the House deliberated on the proposed national budget for 2024, House leaders were alarmed at the request of several executive departments for an extraordinary increase in their respective budgetary allotments for CIFs.
Maintaining the present allocations was not enough for the heads of the departments. They wanted much more money. That started the CIF controversy.
When House leaders made inquiries on the request for increases in CIFs, two national offices became the focus of congressional attention, and the attention of both the public and the media, namely, the Office of the Vice President and the Department of Education. Both offices are led by incumbent Vice President Sara Duterte.
The House wanted to know why the OVP and the DepEd wanted large sums of public funds for their CIFs.
During the inquiries, Marikina Representative Stella Quimbo revealed that in 2022, the OVP spent P125-million of its confidential funds in a record 11 days.
According to the news media, that means the OVP spent more than P12-million during each of those 11 days!
Precisely because the funds are confidential, the news media also reported that the OVP was unable to justify its spending spree.
As for the DepEd, it was explained that the DepEd needs the funds to prevent the infiltration of the ranks of public school teachers and administrators by communist elements.
Apparently, those explanations did not sit well with the House.
For the House, intelligence work should be done by the civilian and military intelligence agencies of the government, and not by the OVP or the DepEd.
Thus, the CIFs sought by both offices were transferred by the House to the appropriate intelligence agencies of the government, which are in a better position to do intelligence work in the first place.
The House also noted that increasing the funds of the intelligence agencies is a right step in the Philippines’ defense against communist Chinese aggression in the West Philippine Sea.
Interestingly, the House decision found support from a number of noted experts on the Constitution.
These experts pointed out that while the Administrative Code of the Philippines explicitly recognizes the functions of the intelligence agencies of the government, the claim of the OVP and the DepEd to functions relating to intelligence work has no statutory basis.
Moreover, they stressed that the OVP is not even a line department of the national government.
Since the only role of the Vice President is to succeed in case there is a vacancy in the presidency, there appears to be no reason why the OVP had to spend P125-million in just 11 days.
Even the most spendthrift public official, they said, will find it very difficult to spend so much public money in so little time.
The experts also asserted that even if Vice President Duterte is also the DepEd Secretary, it is the DepEd, not the OVP, which may perhaps justify a marked increase in its annual budget to run the DepEd, but not for intelligence work.
It was also pointed out that confidential funds are the exception, not the rule, pursuant to the Constitutional mandate that transactions of the government should be transparent.
Ultimately, the House’s action was to uphold both the Constitution and the law while allocating public funds to government offices deemed most capable of exercising prudence in their use, with a view towards mitigating any potential squandering of taxpayers’ resources.
Rather than be criticized for what happened, as its biased detractors are now doing, the House should be commended for taking the step in the right direction during these trying times.