THE HOUSE of Representatives committee on appropriations on Tuesday swiftly ended a hearing on the P10.70-billion budget of the Office of the President (OP) amid questions about the President’s expenses for foreign trips and inter-agency fund transfers.

Abra Rep. Ching B. Bernos moved for the termination of the budget hearing “as part of a longstanding tradition and practice in the House of Representatives and the committee on appropriations to extend parliamentary courtesy to the Office of the President.”

“Courtesy? Respect? Don’t government agencies especially the Office of the President owe the public more the courtesy and respect?” Deputy Minority Leader and Party-list Rep. France L. Castro told the budget hearing. “The OP owes the public an explanation of how it spends each centavo allocated to them.”

She cited a consistent increase in confidential and intelligence funds of the Office of the President, to P4.56 billion next year.

The same House committee last week swiftly approved the 2024 budget of Vice-President Sara Duterte-Carpio, citing “parliamentary courtesy.” It also turned off the mic of minority lawmakers so their objections would not be heard.

Party-list Rep. Raoul Danniel A. Manuel said the OP should explain why it granted funds worth P221 million to the Office of the Vice President last year.

State auditors had flagged the OVP for spending confidential funds worth P125 million in the absence of a specific budget.

Assistant Minority Leader and Party-list Rep. Arlene D. Brosas said the Office of the President should clarify its stance on wage increases and price controls for other commodities aside from rice.

She added that the office should clarify funds spent on President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr.’s foreign travels, which the Commission on Audit (CoA) said increased by P366 million to P403 million last year.

The office should also answer questions about its special purpose and unprogrammed funds, as well as fund transfers to the country’s anti-communist task force and anti-terror council, Ms. Brosas said.

Executive Secretary Lucas P. Bersamin told reporters after the hearing he was “happy” with the outcome of the budget hearing.

Ms. Castro told reporters the Makabayan bloc was unsatisfied with how the committee handled the hearing.

“We don’t want to give away our right and obligation to scrutinize the budget of the Office of the President,” she said.

The presidential palace has said the release of P221.424-million confidential funds to the Office of Vice President last year was legal and had been recommended by the Budget department.

“Vice-President Sara, who was newly elected then, needed funds for her new programs for the remaining period of 2022,” the Office of Executive Secretary Lucas P. Bersamin said in a statement.

“The President supported this initiative and released the funds, with the favorable recommendation of the Department of Budget and Management,” it added. — Beatriz Marie D. Cruz and K.A.T. Atienza