MANILA, Philippines, September 23 ------ If Congress so decides, Vice President Sara Duterte is willing to forgo her office’s “unprecedentedly huge” confidential fund.
Recent budget deliberations at the plenary for the Office of the Vice President (OVP) and the Department of Education (DepEd), both under Duterte, members of the House of Representatives were looking to realign the total P650 million in confidential funds set aside for the two agencies to unfunded or underfunded programs in their proposed 2023 budgets. Independent opposition and Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman pointed out that the P2.29-billion proposed budget for the OVP is 258.52 percent higher than the average OVP budget of P639.47 million in the last six years, adding that the OVP was allocated a total of P3.8 billion under then Vice President Leni Robredo. The representative also noted that the OVP’s proposed budget for next year was 226.58 percent higher than the budget allocated to it for 2022 and that the office received the highest increase in terms of percentage among all agencies.
According to Davao de Oro Rep. Maria Carmen Zamora, who sponsored the budget of the OVP, the increase in the allocation was for the continuation of some of the office’s projects and the implementation of new projects for pandemic recovery as well as the setup of satellite offices. The OVP, she said, currently has seven satellite offices operating under a P150-million budget. But Lagman questioned the necessity of these, saying all other vice presidents “from the commonwealth up to the last incumbent” were able to function even without satellite offices. He also questioned the P500-million confidential funds of the OVP, saying that most previous vice presidents did not “enjoy” nor sought the allotment. According to Zamora, confidential funds were allocated to the OVP in 2009 (P6 million), 2010 (P3 million), 2011 (P6 million) and 2012 (P9 million)— “miniscule amounts compared to P500 million,” Lagman said.
Pressed if her office was willing to forgo its confidential funds “in the spirit of patriotism and frugality, considering the limited fiscal space which resulted in the decrease in the appropriations of most government agencies,” Duterte said through Zamora that she “defers to the decision of the majority of this honorable Congress.” During the budget deliberations for the DepEd, Lagman again sought a commitment from the DepEd to voluntarily realign its P150-million confidential fund to its special education program which was given zero allocation by the Department of Budget and Management despite the proposed budget of P531 million.
For his part, Kabataan Rep. Raoul Danniel Manuel asked if the same fund could be realigned instead to the DepEd’s child protection program, considering the same purpose for its allocation of protecting learners from various illegal activities. But the DepEd gave no commitment.