Senate minority hopes to retain realignments, transparency provisions in intel funds

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, November 25) — The Senate minority bloc is still pushing for the realignment of controversial confidential and intelligence funds (CIFs), as the bicameral conference committee started to tackle the proposed ₱5.268-trillion budget for 2023 on Friday.

According to Senate Committee on Finance chairman Sonny Angara, opposition Sen. Risa Hontiveros kept the bloc's stance on realigning confidential funds to maintenance and other operating expenses or MOOE.

It includes the ₱172.668 CIFs realigned by the Senate from the Department of Education (DepEd), the Department of Foreign Affairs, the Department of Justice, the Office of the Ombudsman, the Department of Social Welfare and Development, and other executive offices.

For instance, under its own version of the 2023 spending bill, the Senate left DepEd with a confidential fund of ₱30 million from the initial ₱150 million. Lawmakers in the upper chamber agreed to realign ₱100 million of the budget to MOOE, the Healthy Learners Institution Program in particular.

"Nagsabi na si Vice chair Hontiveros na sana, manatili po yung amendment po ng Senado na nag-realign tayo ng ilang daang milyon pondo mula sa intelligence fund ng iba't ibang ahensya na inilagay po," Angara said in an ambush interview.

[Translation: Vice chair Hontiveros said that she hopes the Senate amendment about the realigned several hundred million funds from the intelligence fund of various agencies remains.]

Opposition lawmakers earlier criticized the current administration's request to boost CIFs with ₱9.2 billion.

During previous plenary discussions, Senate Minority Leader Koko Pimentel even questioned the allocation of "enormous" CIFs to three government agencies: the Office of the Vice President (OVP), DepEd, and the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG), the first two of which are headed by Vice President Sara Duterte.

Hontiveros also stressed the need to require the agencies to submit work plans and quarterly reports of CIFs.

"Healthy principle po yun na lahat ng budget items na galing sa buwis ng mamamayan at hinahawakan ng gobyerno ay gawing transparent and accountable yung paggastos nito. At yung CIFS in principle ay ilimita doon sa mga ahensyang may mandato and therefore pangangailangan para dito," she said.

[Translation: It is a healthy principle that all budget items that come from the citizens’ taxes and are handled by the government should make their spending transparent and accountable. And the CIFS in principle should be limited to those agencies that have a mandate and therefore have a need for it.]

Meanwhile, Marikina Rep. Stella Quimbo, who also serves as Committee on Appropriations senior vice chairperson, said Congress has realigned at least ₱215 billion of the proposed 2023 budget.

"Sa tingin ko naman mabilis na makaka-agree ang House at ang Senado dahil meron tayo for the first time inadopt natin ang medium term fiscal framework — ito ang naglalaman ng 8-point socio economic agenda ng ating Pangulo. So yan ang magiging guiding posts ng House at ng Senate," Quimbo said.

[Translation: I think that the House and the Senate will be able to agree quickly because we have, for the first time, adopted the medium term fiscal framework — this contains the 8-point socio economic agenda of our President. So that will be the guiding posts of the House and the Senate.]

Quimbo said they expect the early approval of the 2023 budget "before Christmas."

CNN Philippines Correspondent Eimor Santos contributed to this report.