By John Victor D. Ordoñez, Reporter

SENATORS on Monday swiftly approved Vice-President’s Sara Duterte-Carpio’s P2.39-billion budget for next year amid questions whether her office really needs P500 million in confidential funds.

Senator Ramon “Bong” B. Revilla, Jr. moved for the budget approval after a few pleasantries at a hearing, in line with a Senate “tradition.”

Senators Ana “Risa” Hontiveros-Barquel and Aquilino Martin  “Koko” D. Pimentel III asked Ms. Carpio why her office needed P500 million in confidential funds.

This is larger than the proposed confidential funds of Defense department, which is asking for P87 million, and P1 million for the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency. 

“There is no good reason why the Office of the Vice President should have confidential fund allocations that are larger than the combined confidential budgets of our top security agencies,” Ms. Hontiveros-Baraquel said at the hearing.

Ms. Carpio said the funds would be used for the “safe, secure and successful implementation” of her office’s socioeconomic projects and in intelligence gathering and projects supporting the Office of the President.

“We can only propose but we’re not insisting,” she told the hearing. “We can live without confidential funds. But of course, our work will be much easier if we have the flexibility of confidential funds.”

Last week, the Office of the Vice President’s budget breezed through the House committee on appropriations after her congressional allies voted to end the hearing on “parliamentary courtesy.”

Opposition congressmen led by Party-list Rep. Raoul Danniel A. Manuel opposed the termination of the House hearing, saying parliamentary courtesy stops Congress from exercising its power of the purse.

They cited the lack of transparency on how the government spends the people’s money.

The Commission on Audit (CoA) has flagged the OVP for spending confidential funds worth P125 million last year.

Party-list Rep. France L. Castro said the money could have built 50 classrooms, adding that these were not part of the 2022 General Appropriations Act.

Meanwhile, the Department of Education (DepEd), which Ms. Caprio heads, wants P150 million in confidence and intelligence funds.

At a separate hearing on the agency’s budget, Ms. Carpio said the P150 million in confidence and intelligence funds would be used for the agency’s initiatives against child pornography, youth drug use and programs against extremism.

“These programs would provide a safe and enabling learning environment for our students and teaching personnel,” she told senators.

She said the agency’s intelligence-gathering efforts would also include programs against crimes, insurgency and gangsterism.

Ms. Hontiveros-Baraquel asked the vice president how DepEd’s efforts differ from similar programs being implemented by the Philippine National Police, Armed Forces of the Philippines and the country’s task force against communism.

Ms. Carpio said DepEd’s initiatives would benefit students and teachers, compared with the broad mandate of other agencies.

“I would still aver that in terms of intelligence collection and analysis, even in the education sector, the mandate should still remain with our security agencies and experts,” the senator said.

DepEd was allotted P758.6 billion in the proposed P5.76-trillion national budget for next year.

Ms. Duterte told reporters last month the Education department needed the confidential and intelligence funds because “education is intertwined with national security and it is important to mold children who are patriotic, who will love and defend our country.”

The budget for confidential and intelligence funds next year increased by P120 million to P10.14 billion — P5.28 billion in intelligence and P4.86 billion in confidential funds.

Under the 2024 National Expenditure Program, the Office of the President was given P4.5 billion in intelligence funds, while the Department of Information and Communications Technology got confidential funds worth P300 million.