The P650-million confidential funds requested by Vice President Sara Duterte for the Office of the Vice President (OVP) and the Department of Education (DepEd) can be restored during the bicameral conference, Senate Minority Leader Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III said Friday.
“‘Yan ang katotohanan na hindi maganda sa bicam na anything goes po doon… Theoretically speaking, the bicam has the power to introduce anything kasi nire-report back n’ya sa mother unit n’ya [‘yung report] eh which is the plenary,” Pimentel said.
“Kung ma-ratify du’n parang na-approve na rin ang kung ano man ang ginawa ng bicam,” he added.
Since there was a chance for the deleted or reduced confidential funds to resurface in the final version of the bill containing the proposed 2024 national budget, Pimentel urged those who were monitoring the budget deliberations to be vigilant until the Bicameral Conference Committee report on the spending bill was ratified by both the upper and lower house.
“Puwede ma-restore. Kaya siguro sa mga interesado sa issue, na nagbantay hanggang dulo, ang pagbabantay [dapat] even after the bicam. ‘Yung bicam report dapat bantayan,” he said.
Once the Senate approves the 2024 General Appropriations Bill (GAB) on third and final reading, senators and congressmen will convene the Bicameral Conference Committee.
During the bicameral conference, lawmakers will reconcile the disagreeing provisions of the House of Representatives and Senate’s respective versions of the GAB.
After the bicameral conference committee reconciles the disagreeing provisions of the GAB, the final version of the budget bill will be reported to the Senate and House of Representatives’ respective plenaries for its ratification.
After both houses ratify it, the GAB will be sent to Malacañang for the president’s review and approval.
On Thursday, Vice President and Education Secretary Sara Duterte said she would no longer pursue the requested P500 million confidential funds for the OVP and the P150 million confidential funds for DepEd.
These developments transpired during the Senate plenary deliberations on the 5.768-trillion 2024 GAB.
In an ambush interview, Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri said Duterte no longer wanted the confidential funds that her offices originally proposed for 2024 even if these would be reinstated during the bicameral conference.
“Ayaw na ni VP. Nakausap namin siya. Ayaw niyang ibalik ‘yung confidential funds,” Zubiri said.
(She no longer wants it. We talked to her, and she doesn’t want them reinstated.)
In the House of Representatives, House Deputy Minority Leader and ACT Teachers party-list Representative France Castro said though she had given up the OVP and DepEd’s confidential funds, Duterte still needed to explain where she spent the P125 million confidential fund she got in 2022.
“Napilitan na siguro ang Vice President [to have that position] kasi naging mabaho iyong confidential fund at inaayawan ito ng taumbayan… Even among her allies, her stand on this has been unpopular,” Castro said in a press conference.
Castro said the Makabayan Bloc would not let their guard down on the issue of the confidential and intelligence funds (CIF).
“We will fight this until the budget reaches the Bicameral Conference Committee,” said Castro.
The lawmaker also raised the need for legislation that would abolish the CIF in national agencies that do not need confidential funds.
For House Assistant Minority Leader Arlene Brosas of the Gabriela party-list, Duterte’s decision not to pursue the confidential funds was an attempt to save face.
“The issue blew wide open because the people are now seeing that the budget is so huge for a confidential purpose,” Brosas said.
“Hindi nito maapula ang galit ng taumbayan (This won’t ease the people’s fury). We will continue to be vigilant, hindi natin ito tatantanan (we will keep at it),” she added.
Like Castro, Brosas urged Duterte anew to explain where the P125 million confidential funds in 2022 went.
“Huwag niya takasan ang taumbayan (She should not evade accountability to the people). Again, these funds are better used for education, health, agriculture, among others,” she said.
Before Duterte gave up her proposed P650 million confidential funds for 2024, the House of Representatives had already realigned P1.23 billion worth of confidential funds of five agencies, including the OVP and the DepEd.
The Senate Finance Committee had adopted the House version of the GAB which means the amount of CIF was reduced from P10.1 billion to P9.8 billion in the current version of the proposed 2024 national budget. — DVM, GMA Integrated News