Senate panel okays OVP budget, grills Duterte on ₱500-M confidential funds

enablePagination: false
maxItemsPerPage: 10
maxPaginationLinks: 10

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 4) - A senate panel approved the Office of the Vice President's (OVP) proposed ₱2.36-billion funds for 2024, including the controversial ₱500 million for confidential funds after opposition senators put VP Sara Duterte in the hot seat.

Duterte told the Senate Committee on Finance on Monday that while her office "can live without the confidential funds," the requested allocation finances its separate intelligence gathering and surveillance operations targeting "threats" to their programs.

"We are not insisting. We can live without the confidential funds but our work will be much easier if we have the flexibility of confidential funds," she added.

Asked which specific programs and projects use the requested confidential funds, the VP said the multibillion-peso budget is used by all of the projects.

Surveillance on 'perceived threats'

Sen. Risa Hontiveros grilled Duterte on the specifics of the requested controversial funds.

"Since confidential funds refer to agencies related to surveillance activities… ibig po 'bang sabihin 'yung opisina ninyo will be gathering intelligence on certain subjects or entities in support of your mandate and operations?" Hontiveros asked.

The vice president said that was correct.

Duterte said her office's specific intel gathering and surveillance operations are directed at "perceived as threats" to programs and activities.

As an example, Duterte noted her office did surveillance on Bulacan constituents last year who were "selling OVP assistance." Through intel gathering, she said they apprehended the suspects.

Hontiveros also asked whether the office is sourcing information from other intel gathering agencies such as the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Department of National Defense.

Duterte said confidential funds are for the OVP's mandate-led intel gathering and would not duplicate information gathered by other agencies.

She added that the OVP shares its intel to the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the PNP while the law enforcement agencies also offer information not found in the office's database.

"Paano ico-collate ng OVP, isto-store, ica-catalogue 'yung intelligence na kokolektahin? (How will the OVP collate, store, catalog, the collected intelligence?)," Hontiveros said.

"These are confidential matters which we cannot divulge in open session," Duterte answered.

She also said the "sources" of the information from intelligence gathering and surveillance operations are confidential.

Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Koko Pimentel said the OVP could indicate the need for "consultants" in their proposed budget instead of listing needs under the confidential fund for separate intel operations.

"I don't think confidential funds should be mixed with the need to come up with policies," he added.

Four other senators wanted to ask questions, but Senators Bong Revilla and Jinggoy Estrada moved to end the session, citing the long-standing budget hearing tradition of giving courtesy to the vice president.

The four other senators agreed, and the hearing ended with the committee approving the budget, including the confidential funds.

House Deputy Minority Leader France Castro earlier said the OVP spent ₱125 million as confidential funds in 2022 even without congressional authorization.

RELATED: Castro to study Duterte’s impeachment if confidential funds use proven 'unauthorized' 

The House appropriations committee's hearing on the OVP budget for 2024 last week lasted for just 20 minutes