Pimentel, Drilon question OP's release of ₱125M in 2022 for OVP’s confidential funds

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 5) — Two former Senate presidents on Tuesday questioned the Office of the President’s (OP) decision to approve the release of over ₱221 million to Vice President Sara Duterte’s office last year upon her request, including ₱125 million in confidential funds (CF).

This was after the Office of the Executive Secretary (OES) confirmed that President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. approved the release of a total of ₱221.42 million to the OVP in 2022.

The OES said ₱125 million was for confidential funds, while ₱96.42 million was for financial assistance, both of which were chargeable against the contingent fund for fiscal year (FY) 2022.

According to Senate Minority Leader Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III, who served as Senate president from 2016 to 2018, two budgeting basics were “apparently violated in that transfer.”

For one, he said the source of the money — the contingent fund — can only be used for three purposes, none of which is for confidential funds (CF) or to augment the CF.

He added that the 2022 budget for the Office of the Vice President (OVP) did not have an item for CF, “hence, there was no item to augment even if it can be legally sourced.”

“From out of thin air, the OVP was able to get and spend money for confidential fund," PImentel said.

"From the basic facts alone there would be not less than two violations of budget laws and rules,” he added.

In a separate statement, another former Senate president, Franklin Drilon, said the transfer of funds “raises constitutional questions and violates the Supreme Court ruling in the case of Araullo v Aquino.” He led the Senate thrice in 2000, from 2001 to 2006, and from 2013 to 2016.

“It is clear that the transfer runs counter to the basic principles of budgeting and governance enshrined within Article VI, Section 25 (5) of the Constitution,” Drilon argued.

He was referring to the section which states: “No law shall be passed authorizing any transfer of appropriations; however, the President, the President of the Senate, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and the heads of Constitutional Commissions may, by law, be authorized to augment any item in the general appropriations law for their respective offices from savings in other items of their respective appropriations.”

“In the absence of a CIF (confidential and intelligence funds) in the 2022 budget of the OVP, what item is there to legitimately augment?" Drilon said. "The decision raises serious concerns regarding the constitutionality of the fund transfer."

He also noted that Duterte’s predecessor, former Vice President Leni Robredo, found no need for CIF, and that Robredo “remained steadfastly opposed to its implementation.”

Palace defends decision

Earlier that day, the OES defended the OP's move, saying Marcos approved the release of over ₱221 million since Duterte “needed funds for her new program.”

The OES added that the president made the decision following “the favorable recommendation” of the Department of Budget and Management (DBM).

“Under Special Provision No. 1 (of FY 2022 Contingent Fund), the President is authorized to approve releases to cover funding requirements of new or urgent activities of NGAs (national government agencies), among others, that need to be implemented during the year,” the office wrote.

“VP Sara, who was newly elected then, needed funds for her new programs for the remaining period of 2022,” it said.

CNN Philippines has contacted the OP and the OVP to request for more details on what these new programs are, as well as the DBM for explanation behind its recommendation to Marcos.

The OES' statement only indicated that the confidential funds were “for newly created satellite offices” of the OVP.

Duterte's office previously said it launched at least seven satellite offices on her first day as vice president in a bid to expand services to Filipinos outside Metro Manila.

RELATED: COA flags OVP over immediate establishment of satellite offices

Earlier, ACT Teachers Party-list Rep. and House Deputy Minority Leader France Castro said the OVP spent the ₱125-million confidential funds in only 19 days.

She also alleged that the office spent the funds even without Congressional authorization.