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VP Duterte offices’ budgets hurdle Senate debates

Metro Manila, November 15 ------ The Office of Vice President (OVP) Sara Duterte, as well as the Department of Education (DepEd) which she also heads, hurdled budget debates in the Senate with their controversial confidential funds intact.

But the minority bloc said it will fight for the deletion and realignment of the confidential funds worth P500 million for the OVP and P150 million for DepEd. The Senate committee on finance retained both amounts, despite Duterte’s earlier pronouncement she was leaving it to Congress to determine the final allocation. The OVP’s proposed budget, totaling P2.3 billion, was approved and deemed submitted for amendments in around 30 minutes.

Senate Minority Leader Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III said he will “move for the deletion” of the OVP’s confidential fund, noting that there are several agencies in need of funding. He also noted that Duterte’s requested budget is more than thrice than the 2022 budget of her predecessor, former Vice President Leni Robredo. Pimentel questioned its allocations for various programs which for him might replicate existing programs of other agencies — including medical assistance, burial assistance, and free rides, among others. Senate committee on finance chairman Sonny Angara said these will serve as supplements. Angara said the panel “will definitely study” any proposal coming from Pimentel.

Meanwhile, deliberations on DepEd’s budget lasted for more than five hours. At one point, senators volunteered to excuse Duterte but she opted to stay. Sen. Pia Cayetano, who defended the DepEd budget, said there’s no consensus yet on what to do with DepEd’s confidential fund. “I brought this to the attention of the body in caucus to determine what it would like to do with the confidential funds and there were a number of proposals on the table, so that remains for us as a body to determine, your honor,” Cayetano said.

Opposition Sen. Risa Hontiveros reiterated that the money should go to more pressing concerns in the education sector. “I hope our colleagues in the Senate will share the view that there are no extraordinarily compelling reasons to provide a confidential fund to the education agency,” she said. During the hours-long session, senators expressed concern over the country’s classroom shortage, which is now at 167,901. Cayetano, as well as Senate basic education committee chairman Win Gatchalian, said nearly P420 billion is needed to build the classrooms.



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