By Billy Begas
Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman on Thursday scrutinized the unprecedented increase in the budget of the Office of the Vice President and its P500 million confidential fund for 2023.
During the budget deliberation, Lagman said the proposed P2.2 billion budget of the office of Vice President Sara Duterte is 226.56% higher compared to its more than P700 million budget this year.
Davao de Oro Rep. Maria Carmen Zamora, the sponsor of OVP’s budget, confirmed the figure.
Lagman noted that from 2016 to 2022, the total budget of the OVP under former Vice President Leni Robredo was only P3.8 billion, or an annual average of P639.4 million.
“This proposed total appropriation for 2023 is 258.52% higher than the average appropriations of the Office of the Vice President for the past six years,” Lagman said.
Asked by Lagman, Zamora confirmed that the OVP has the biggest increase in terms of percentage among the agencies of the government.
Zamora said the fund will be used to implement various social protection programs such as the libreng sakay program, magnegosyo ta day program, and the establishment of satellite offices to bring government services closer to the public.
Lagman also asked about the P500 million confidential fund allocated to Duterte’s office noting that previous vice presidents did not enjoy such.
Zamora defended the allocation and said that the funds will be used by the OVP to assist other agencies including the Office of the President (OP) in achieving national security in the country.
Lagman then reminded Zamora that the OP has a P4.5 billion confidential and intelligence fund for next year.
“In a nutshell, distinguished sponsor, what is the justification for granting the OVP confidential fund which is unprecedented in magnitude,” Lagman asked.
Zamora said the confidential fund “is for the safe implementation of projects and activities of the OVP with proper safety coordination and safety protocols for the benefit of the organization.”
Lagman also asked for an itemization and specific enumeration of activities and programs that will be funded by the confidential fund. Zamora said she cannot do so publicly.
“I think if we would like to grant the OVP P500 million confidential fund this should be justified and members of the House should know what will be the projects and programs to be funded from the confidential fund,” Lagman stressed.
Zamora said the OVP could present the financial and physical plan in an executive session. Upon the prodding of Lagman, Zamora said the OVP will submit a copy of the plan to the Office of the Speaker and the House Committee on Appropriations.
Later, Lagman asked Zamora if Duterte is willing to forego the confidential funds amid the decrease in appropriations in most of the agencies and pointed out that surveillance is not part of the OVP’s mandate.
Zamora stressed that Duterte is confident that she can help the government using the confidential fund.
“It is now our understanding that the honorable Vice President is not willing to forgo, not even a single centavo of the P500 million confidential fund allocated in her office,” Lagman said.
Zamora replied, “Mr. Speaker if I may, your Honor, the Honorable Vice President has just shared it with me now that she’s saying, she defers to the decision of the majority of this honorable Congress.”
Lagman then thanked the Vice President “for that commitment.”
Lagman said he made the interpellation for the enlightenment of the members of the House and not in disrespect of the second highest official who was popularly elected.