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Thursday, December 7, 2023

Curse of confidential/intelligence funds

“Budgeting confidential and intelligence funds for non-security officials is a curse for this country.”

In the budget hearing, Vice President Sara Duterte underscored the critical necessity of confidential funds within the Department of Education (DepEd), citing the sector’s vital link to national security.

In her capacity as the head of DepEd, Duterte seeks ₱150 million in confidential funds to bolster the department’s operations.

Duterte refrained from revealing the budget breakdown but emphasized the presence of guidelines governing the government’s utilization of these funds.

In justifying for the inclusion of confidential funds in the upcoming year’s budget for the Department of Education (DepEd) during a budget hearing at the House of Representatives, the VP said the funds would be used to address issues in the education sector that required the help of the security cluster, such as the “sexual grooming of learners,” “recruitment in terrorism and violent extremism,” and “drug use of DepEd personnel. x x x

“These are not laid out for regular personnel to see; that is why we need the help of the security cluster and the security sector to address these issues and challenges to basic education,” Duterte explained.

Confidential Intelligence Funds (CIF) went largely under the radar for an extended period, eclipsed by the more conspicuous PDAF/CDF.

This was mainly because the funds in question were not nearly as substantial as those currently making headlines.

In their inception, CIFs were created to meet genuine operational needs, especially within the armed forces.

However, the present-day confidential funds attracting attention differ markedly from their original purpose and objectives.

Confidential funds are used for “surveillance activities in civilian government agencies that are intended to support the mandate or operations of the said agency.”

While intelligence funds (IF) are for “intelligence information-gathering activities of uniformed and military personnel and [of] intelligence practitioners that have direct impact (on) national security.”

Both definitions are contained in Joint Circular 2015-01 of the Department of Budget and Management (DBM), Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), Department of National Defense (DND), the Commission on Audit (COA), and the Governance Commission for government-owned and controlled corporations (GOCC).

By their very nature, CF and IF are difficult to audit.

However, this does not imply the COA lacks its own mechanisms to oversee the utilization of these funds, because according to former COA chairperson Grace Pulido Tan, “Intelligence and confidential funds should be used for intelligence gathering or the purchase of information…but these have to be within a framework of a peace and order and safety program,”

Despite the confidential and clandestine nature of confidential and intelligence funds (CIF), a multitude of government agencies, including those without explicit mandates related to national security or law enforcement, persist in being allocated substantial CIF amounts totaling billions of pesos.

The problem lies in the absence of transparency surrounding CIF utilization, which is enveloped in secrecy, and the COA audit has not been made available to Congress or the public.

Needless to say, CIF utilization breeds graft and corruption, such that the greater the amount involved the greater the corruption.

Some have aired serious concerns over the utilization of these lump sum amounts which some have even likened to “pork barrel,” which was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 2013.

In Araullo v. Aquino, the Supreme Court ruled certain actions and procedures associated with the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), National Budget Circular 541, and related executive directives as unconstitutional.

The court justified this decision by invoking the principle of the separation of powers.

It specifically deemed unconstitutional the following actions: withdrawing unobligated allotments from implementing agencies, conducting cross-border transfers of Executive savings, and funding projects, activities, and programs not covered by appropriations in the General Appropriations Acts.

The transfer of P221.424 million, which included P125 million designated for confidential and intelligence funds (CIF), from the Office of the President (OP) to the Office of the Vice President (OVP) in 2022, clearly constitutes a breach of the Constitution as well as the Court ruling in the above-entitled case.

Surely, the transfer goes against the fundamental budgeting and governance principles outlined in Article VI, Section 25 (5) of the Constitution.

As noted in Araullo, the process of transferring funds is exclusively permitted through a procedure known as “augmentation.”

Nevertheless, this procedure could only be applied to pre-existing appropriation items that are insufficient.

If there were no pre-existing items in the budget, as in this case, the OVP (Office of the Vice President) for such purposes, then the OP (Office of the President) could not have the authority to augment any funds.

The way the money was spent last year is nothing but scandalous.

Whether it took Duterte’s office to spend P125 million in 19 or 11 days, that is still a staggering amount.

Of course compared to the nearly P3 billion spent in the same way in Davao City during a six- year period, the “125 million is peanuts.

In this regard, I must praise the excellent fiscalizing work by the Makabayan legislators – Gabriela’s Arlene Brosas, ACT-Teacher’s France Castro, and Kabataan’s Raoul Manuel.

Together with Representative Edcel Lagman and Senator Risa Hontiveros, they have done a great service for the country.

Clearly, budgeting confidential and intelligence funds for non-security officials is a curse for this country. Like the pork barrel, it is time to abolish them.

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