By Billy Begas
The controversial P125 million confidential fund of the Office of Vice President last year reignited a debate during the plenary deliberation of the proposed P5.768 trillion budget on Monday.
House Deputy Minority leader and ACT Teachers party-list Rep. France Castro insisted that the confidential fund (CF) was not authorized by Congress.
Castro said that under the 2022 budget of the OVP, there was no allocation for CF. “At ang zero ay hindi yung budget allocation.”
House Committee on Appropriations senior Vice-chairperson and Marikina Rep. Stella Luz Quimbo stressed that the use by OVP of CF was legal and it was part of the 2022 General Appropriations Act (GAA).
“Madam Speaker una sa lahat, one can force her opinion but one cannot force her facts,” Quimbo said. “Maling bahagi ng libro ang tinitignan po ninyo. Maliwanag nagdeklara ang Supreme Court na ang contingent fund ay isang line item appropriations.”
Castro interjected, “Madam Speaker hindi po natin pinag-uusapan ang contingent fund…. Ang tinatanong ko lang po dito kung meron o wala? Wala pa po ako sa contingent fund.”
“Sumagot po ako Madam Speaker na meron at payagan nyo po akong ipaliwanag kung bakit meron. Ang problema po is ayaw po natin makinig,” Quimbo said.
The two then speak over each other’s voice forcing the presiding officer—House Deputy Speaker Kristine Singson Meehan to suspend the session.
When the session resumed, Castro was asked by Singson-Meehan to repeat her question.
“Kapag gumastos ng confidential fund kahit wala sa GAA (General Appropriations Act) ito ay unauthorized or unlawful obligation or expenditure, yes or no?” Castro asked Quimbo who responded in the affirmative.
“Dahil walang expressly provided for na budget allocation for CF in the OVP in 2022, so hindi entitled and OVP sa confidential fund noong 2022?” Castro said.
Quimbo disagreed. “Entitled po siya noong 2022.”
“So ano yung basis ng sinasabi ng ating distinguished sponsor na entitled sya?” Castro asked.
“Ang contingent fund ay isang special purpose fund subject to the approval of the President,” Quimbo replied.
After several minutes of verbal exchanges, Quimbo quipped, “Madam Speaker, it is very clear that our colleague is confused about the nature of this fund, a special purpose fund. This is lodged with the DBM (Department of Budget and Management.”
Castro replied, “Madam speaker hindi po ako confused. Alam ko po yung sinasabi ko.”
After another round of exchanges, Castro said that the P125 million fund used by the OVP as confidential fund came from the contingent fund.
“So ano po yung tanong, saan siya galing? Ang tanong is bakit walang Congress approval? Okay, ang congressional approval po ay yung contingent fund. Yun po ang appropriations at maliwanag po base sa Supreme Court decision na yan po ay valid na line item appropriations…… Dahil hindi nga po natin maa-anticipate ang lahat ng pangangailangan ng ating gobyerno two years in advance kaya nilalagay sa special purpose fund, sa DBM at hinihingi nalang ng ahensya sa DBM ang kanilang pangangailangan in-kaso na merong new or urgent project or activities as they go along,” Quimbo answered.
“Ang importante po is merong existing line item doon po sa OVP at maliwanag po ang existing line item… sa 2022 GAA which is the good governance project and social services. Yun po yung existing line item of which one of the objects of expenditure is confidential expense,” Quimbo added.
However, Castro said that she was not satisfied with the answer and insisted that the said confidential fund was illegal.
“I beg to disagree na merong expressly provided for na budget allocation ang OVP sa taong 2022 (for CF),” Castro added.
But Quimbo stressed that she had already provided a satisfactory answer to which Castro replied, “Hindi pa rin po ako satisfied sa sagot.”
Quimbo repeated her earlier response that the contingent fund is legal.