Youngest member condemns Congress’ ‘undemocratic’ approval of OVP’s confidential funds

The youngest member of Congress condemned a House of Representatives tradition granting so-called parliamentary courtesy to certain agencies of the executive branch and approving their proposed budget without deliberation.

Speaking at the hearing of the Office of the Vice President (OVP) budget last Wednesday, August 30, Makabayan bloc member and Kabataan Party Representative Raoul Manuel opposed the lack of discussion on the OVP’s proposed P125 million confidential funds for 2024.

“As youth representative, I am in a position to question tradition that no longer works and serves as barrier to healthy discussions about allocations and use of public funds,” Manuel said.

It was presidential son and Ilocos Norte First District Representative Sandro Marcos who moved for the termination of the deliberations on the OVP’s budget under the so-called tradition of parliamentary courtesy.

Manuel turned 29 on the day of the OVP budget hearing while Marcos—born March 7, 1994—is a few months older.

“Our tradition of extending parliamentary courtesy stops us in the legislative branch from doing our job for which we are paid by the Filipino people. We should have checks and balances,” Manuel said.

The youth representative added he does not want Congress to be complicit to illegal fund use by agencies in the executive branch.

Manuel pointed out that the committee hearing did not count the votes against the proposed OVP budget and objectors were not allowed to explain their dissent to the proposed OVP confidential funds.

“This is not democracy at work. I condemn the proceedings. Traditions that no longer work should be stopped,” Manuel said.

Few versus the charade

The Makabayan bloc–composed of Manuel, ACT Teachers Party Representative France Castro and Gabriela Women’s Party Arlene Brosas–leads the opposition to the granting of confidential funds to certain executive branch agencies such as the OVP and the Department of Education (DepEd) that is also under Vice President Sara Duterte.

During Wednesday’s hearing, Castro wanted discussions on the “unnecessary” P125 million confidential funds but was not allowed by the HOR appropriations committee.

Castro said that since the government is operating on a deficit budget, the proposed P4.3 billion confidential funds for next year should instead be channeled to social services.

Albay First District Representative Edcel Lagman also asked Duterte to voluntarily withdraw her request for confidential funds for the DepEd.

Duterte declined, justifying that basic education is intertwined with national security.

Without oversight and transparency

Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN) also called for the abolition of the controversial funds, saying the lump-sum appropriations are anomalous and defective.

BAYAN president Renato Reyes Jr. in a statement said the funds, also called intelligence funds, are without oversight and transparency on how these are spent.

“They are never open to scrutiny. There is no transparency and no clear oversight from any government agency,” BAYAN president Renato Reyes Jr. said.

“They are in the nature of pork barrel funds. They can even be acquired even without congressional authorization, months after the budget has been approved,” Reyes added.

Reyes said in a time when so many important social services are experiencing cutbacks, the so-called confidential funds are an unjustified and unconscionable burden on the taxpayers.

“All forms of confidential funds should be abolished. No ifs and buts. If they cannot specify a line item for appropriations and provide a clear basis for such appropriations, then it should not be in the GAA (General Appropriations Act). No more lump sums that have zero transparency,” Reyes said.

The Department of Budget and Management (DBM) said the Ferdinand Marcos Jr. government is proposing P4.3 billion in confidential funds and an additional P4.9 billion in intelligence fund for 2024.

The DBM added that these grew by P120 million from the 2023 national budget, an amount close to the proposed P125 million confidential fund of the OVP.

The Philippine government is currently in debt by P14 trillion. # (Raymund B.Villanueva)

Farmers: No to intel funds, yes to social services

Farmer groups said the government’s proposed P5.678 trillion 2024 budget must be carefully scrutinized, adding planned intelligence and debt servicing funds should be allocated to social services instead.

The Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) said that the Office of the President, Office of the Vice President and the Department of National Defense are needlessly allocated P4.5 billion, P500 million and P1.7 billion, respectively.

“These proposed confidential and intelligence funds should be re-channeled to social services instead,” KMP said.

The KMP also said the P700 billion earmarked for debt servicing (12% of the proposed budget) as well as the P282 billion for national defense (4.9%) are more than the P893 billion (15%) for all public services combined.

The Ferdinand Marcos Jr. administration’s proposed 2024 infrastructure program is even bigger at P1.4 trillion, the farmers’ group said.

“There should be enough time to study and scrutinize the proposed budget. It is hard to believe this is a pork barrel-free budget. Because this will come from people’s taxes, everyone must be alert or else, this will only be wasted by corruption,” the KMP said in the statement.

KMP chairperson Danilo Ramos also said they will scrutinize the proposed budget for the Department of Agriculture, Department of Agrarian Reform, Department of Environment and Natural Resources to see how they would be spent to respond to the problems of the agriculture sector.

Ramos added that the sector would press for more funds for subsidies for greater local agricultural production.

The Unyon ng Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA) also questioned the total of about P10 billion confidential and intelligence fund proposal as “Like footing the bill for being stepped on.”

UMA expressed fears the said items will only be used for used to suppress the labor and peasant movements through surveillance and other human rights violations.

“Why should the people agree to pay for this regime’s fascism and corruption? We are their victims and yet they ask us to pay,” UMA acting chairperson Ariel Casilao said.

UMA pointed out farmers are victims of harassments and vilification campaigns of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, such as the Batangas and Isabela sugar workers.

The group also blamed the massacre of the Fausto family in Negros Occidental for being members of a local farmers’ association.

“That is how the regime will spend the P10 billion – with trumped up stories and charges. Sadly, the effects are not fiction. Blood is spilled by their actions,” Casilao said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)