By Kyanna Angela Bulan
A CONGRESSMAN on Wednesday asked his peers to cut the Philippine president’s P4.5-billion intelligence and confidential budgets and channel these to agencies that need more funds.
During a House of Representatives plenary debate on the 2023 budget, Albay Rep. Edcel C. Lagman said they should be very frugal in allotting such funds.
The Office of the President is asking for P2.25 billion in confidential and P2.25 billion in intelligence funds.
Mr. Lagman said the amount should instead be given to programs on education, rural electrification, free rides, cancer prevention and treatment and family planning, among other things.
He said the president’s intelligence and confidential funds are bigger than any of the budgets of the Civil Service Commission (P1.9 billion), Commission of Human Rights (P833.7 million), Human Settlements department (P1.4 billion), Tourism department (P3.5 billion) and Office of the Press Secretary (P1.5 billion).
It is as big as the budget of the Commission of Elections (P4.9 billion) and Office of the Ombudsman (P4.7 billion), he added.
Mr. Lagman noted that on top of the confidential and intelligence funds, the president has direct control of similar funds embedded in various government agencies.
“For the proposed 2023 General Appropriations Bill, there is a total of P9.2 billion in confidential and intelligence funds in the budget of various agencies including the Office of the President,” he added.
Among the agencies also with intelligence funds are the general headquarters of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (P1.2 billion), police (P806 million), Army (P444 million), Office of the Vice President (P500 million) and Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (P500 million), the congressman said.
Party-list Rep. Raoul Danniel A. Manuel said the P4.5 billion is half of the P8.97-billion budget of the Office of the President.
The intel fund is equivalent to the salary increase for 460,000 teachers, one of the campaign promises of President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr., he added.
The money is better used to increase the salary of 368,000 nonteaching staff, repair 6,800 classrooms, build 31,200 school chairs, hire 9,300 nurses for schools, help 1.6 million people who depend on state aid and 440,000 poor students, Mr. Manuel said.
“There is a good reason to reconsider the allocation of the confidential and intelligence funds of the Office of the President,” policy analyst Michael Henry Ll. Yusingco said in a Facebook Messenger chat. “It is only prudent to question why the Office of the President needs a separate allocation.”
“This is exactly the time when our lawmakers should be more stringent in allocating taxpayers’ money,” he added.
The Marcos government appears to be continuing the practice of its predecessor of allotting bloated confidential and intelligence funds, IBON Foundation Executive Director Sonny A. Africa said in a Messenger chat.
“These are huge funds that should technically still be subjected to audit and oversight but are not, given our deeply flawed political system, especially as far as the president is concerned,” he added.
“There was no reason for such bloated funds before and even less so now with more and more Filipino families facing worsening social distress,” Mr. Africa said.
“Most of the Congress is part of the Marcos Jr.-Duterte tandem’s supermajority and is clearly under the whims of the administration,” he said.
Confidential and intel funds started increasing during the term of ex-President Rodrigo R. Duterte, Terry L. Ridon, convenor of think tank InfraWatch PH, said in a Messenger chat.
“This level of confidential and intelligence funds puts transparency and accountability to the back seat, as it severely deprives social and infrastructure agencies of funding, and harkens back to the excesses of the first Marcos administration,” he added.