Youngest member condemns Congress’ ‘undemocratic’ approval of OVP’s confidential funds
September 1, 2023

Kabataan Party Representative Raoul Manuel. (Photo from Manuel's Facebook page)

The youngest member of Congress condemned a House of Representatives tradition granting so-called parliamentary courtesy to certain agencies of the executive branch and approving their proposed budget without deliberation.

Speaking at the hearing of the Office of the Vice President (OVP) budget last Wednesday, August 30, Makabayan bloc member and Kabataan Party Representative Raoul Manuel opposed the lack of discussion on the OVP’s proposed P125 million confidential funds for 2024.

“As youth representative, I am in a position to question tradition that no longer works and serves as barrier to healthy discussions about allocations and use of public funds,” Manuel said.

It was presidential son and Ilocos Norte First District Representative Sandro Marcos who moved for the termination of the deliberations on the OVP’s budget under the so-called tradition of parliamentary courtesy.

Manuel turned 29 on the day of the OVP budget hearing while Marcos—born March 7, 1994—is a few months older.

“Our tradition of extending parliamentary courtesy stops us in the legislative branch from doing our job for which we are paid by the Filipino people. We should have checks and balances,” Manuel said.

The youth representative added he does not want Congress to be complicit to illegal fund use by agencies in the executive branch.

Manuel pointed out that the committee hearing did not count the votes against the proposed OVP budget and objectors were not allowed to explain their dissent to the proposed OVP confidential funds.

“This is not democracy at work. I condemn the proceedings. Traditions that no longer work should be stopped,” Manuel said.

Few versus the charade

The Makabayan bloc–composed of Manuel, ACT Teachers Party Representative France Castro and Gabriela Women’s Party Arlene Brosas–leads the opposition to the granting of confidential funds to certain executive branch agencies such as the OVP and the Department of Education (DepEd) that is also under Vice President Sara Duterte.

During Wednesday’s hearing, Castro wanted discussions on the “unnecessary” P125 million confidential funds but was not allowed by the HOR appropriations committee.

Castro said that since the government is operating on a deficit budget, the proposed P4.3 billion confidential funds for next year should instead be channeled to social services.

Albay First District Representative Edcel Lagman also asked Duterte to voluntarily withdraw her request for confidential funds for the DepEd.

Duterte declined, justifying that basic education is intertwined with national security.

Without oversight and transparency

Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN) also called for the abolition of the controversial funds, saying the lump-sum appropriations are anomalous and defective.

BAYAN president Renato Reyes Jr. in a statement said the funds, also called intelligence funds, are without oversight and transparency on how these are spent.

“They are never open to scrutiny. There is no transparency and no clear oversight from any government agency,” BAYAN president Renato Reyes Jr. said.

“They are in the nature of pork barrel funds. They can even be acquired even without congressional authorization, months after the budget has been approved,” Reyes added.

Reyes said in a time when so many important social services are experiencing cutbacks, the so-called confidential funds are an unjustified and unconscionable burden on the taxpayers.

“All forms of confidential funds should be abolished. No ifs and buts. If they cannot specify a line item for appropriations and provide a clear basis for such appropriations, then it should not be in the GAA (General Appropriations Act). No more lump sums that have zero transparency,” Reyes said.

The Department of Budget and Management (DBM) said the Ferdinand Marcos Jr. government is proposing P4.3 billion in confidential funds and an additional P4.9 billion in intelligence fund for 2024.

The DBM added that these grew by P120 million from the 2023 national budget, an amount close to the proposed P125 million confidential fund of the OVP.

The Philippine government is currently in debt by P14 trillion. # (Raymund B.Villanueva)

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