Hontiveros determined to question transfer of ₱125M to OVP's confidential funds in budget debates

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 19) — Sen. Risa Hontiveros, one of the two Senate minority lawmakers, said she is determined to question the controversial transfer of ₱125 million to the Office of Vice President (OVP) for confidential funds in 2022 when the chamber conducts plenary debates for the country's proposed 2024 budget.

“Hindi ko talaga bibitawan ito [I will not let go of this],” Hontiveros told CNN Philippines’ The Source on Tuesday.

Hontiveros said Vice President Sara Duterte should explain how the Office of the President (OP) was able to transfer ₱125 million to the OVP, as well as how the funds were spent.

“It’s not about her alone, the way she’s behaving dapat talagang ipaliwanag [should be explained],” she added.

On Monday, Marikina Rep. Stella Quimbo, vice chairperson of the House appropriations panel, said there was “nothing improper” with the OP’s transfer of funds as this was allowed under the 2022 General Appropriations Act through the use of its contingent fund.

This was supported by documents submitted to the committee and budget briefings by the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) with lawmakers, she added.

But Hontiveros said the explanations were “nagkakabuhol (knotted),” asking if it’s actually confidential funds that were transferred from the OP’s savings to augment the OVP’s budget, or if contingent funds were released. She also flagged officials from the Executive department for changing the technical terms they are using to defend the issue.

“Kung straightforward ‘yan at above board ang nangyari, the explanation should have been as straightforward, easy, and simple. Hindi parang ganitong namamaluktot talaga sila para sa balu-baluktot na paliwanag,” she added.

[Translation: If it was straightforward and above board, the explanation should have been as straightforward, easy, and simple. Not like this — they’re contorting over a twisted explanation.]

ACT Teachers Party-list Rep. France Castro from the Makabayan bloc was the first to raise the issue during the budget briefing of the House of Representatives for the Commission on Audit’s proposed budget. 

She said the transfer of funds was illegal as former Vice President Leni Robredo did not have an allocation for confidential funds in 2022.

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

Hontiveros said she’s counting on Senate Minority Leader Koko Pimentel, as well as the “slowly growing number of colleagues in the majority,” to support the proposed amendment in next year’s national budget to move confidential funds of civilian agencies, such as the OVP, to line items in their budget instead.

She also said the “major part” of the confidential funds must be moved to “true” intelligence and national security agencies, such as the Philippine Coast Guard, which is facing a clear and present danger in the West Philippine Sea.

For 2024, Duterte is asking Congress for ₱500 million in confidential funds for the OVP, and ₱150 million for the Department of Education, which she concurrently heads.