MINORITY lawmakers on Tuesday scored the unscrutinized existence of the confidential and intelligence funds (CIF) and “presidential pork,” which they alleged exist in the proposed budget of the Office of the President (OP) for 2024.
At the budget hearing by the House Committee on Appropriations on the Office of the President, Executive Secretary Lucas P. Bersamin disclosed they are seeking for the P10.7 billion next year, which he said is “moderately high” compared to their existing P9 billion 2023 budget.
“In order for the Office of the President to perform its various roles and discharge its myriad duties efficiently and effectively, we are respectfully requesting a budget of 10,707,927 billion for fiscal year 2024,” Bersamin said.
Members of the Makabayan bloc, however, claimed the P4.5 billion of the proposed amount by the OP will be for confidential and intelligence funds (CIF), which do not go through audit and public accounting.
They noted this was on top of the unprogrammed funds, and special purpose funds (SPFs) of the OP, which they called “presidential pork.”
In her manifestation at the hearing, Assistant Minority Leader and Gabriela Women’s Party Rep. Arlene D. Brosas called on her peers to scrap the CIF and lump-sum discretionary fund.
“It is time to junk the CIF and the presidential pork and re-channel its [funds] to health and service [programs] for the public,” Brosas said in Filipino. For her part, ACT Teachers party-list Rep. France L. Castro called out the Committee of Appropriations (CA) for immediately terminating the budget hearing by simply invoking parliamentary courtesy.
“Courtesy? Respect? Is it not the government agencies, especially the Office of the President, which owe a higher courtesy and respect to our citizens? We owe them an explanation on how every cent their entrust to us is being spent,” Castro said.
Kabataan Partylist Rep. Raoul Danniel A. Manuel said the OP should address the concerns they raised on its proposed budget. “At the soonest time possible we expect answers from the OP,” said Manuel.
OP needs funds–Co
The Office of the President very much needs the P10.70-billion proposed budget for 2024 as it is the epicenter of the government, House Committee on Appropriations Chairman and Ako Bicol Party-List Rep. Elizaldy Co said in his opening statement at the start of deliberations for OP’s budget.
“The presidency is not merely a symbolic figurehead or a ceremonial role; rather, it is the epicenter of governance, the fulcrum upon which the entire nation pivots. It is a position laden with responsibilities, obligations, and the immense weight of leadership,” Co said.
According to Co, the budget is needed because the President is always expected to uphold the rule of law, guard the Constitution, and even maintain peace and security within the country.
“Furthermore, the President plays a pivotal role in maintaining peace and security within our borders. The President is the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, responsible for safeguarding our nation from external threats and internal conflicts,” he added.
Of the P10.70 billion proposed funding for 2024, P7.746 billion would go to maintenance and other operating expenses; P1.676 billion to capital outlay; and P1.284 billion to personnel services, including pension payouts.
The committee ended the deliberations on the OP’s proposed budget after Abra Rep. Ching Bernos moved to terminate the hearing, which was seconded by lawmakers present.
More trips, infra works
Bersamin said OP budget will allow them to engage in necessary infrastructure works within the Palace campus complex and the gradual restoration and improvement of all the facilities within the OP’s mansion in Baguio City.
The OP also wants to raise its budget for the local and foreign missions and state visits of the President for 2024 to P1.4 billion from over P893 million this year.
“The modest adjustment likewise accommodates the logistical requirements of honouring invitations from foreign leaders to visit their countries and the making of diplomatic initiatives, which will yield job-creating investments that will hasten our post-pandemic economic recovery,” Bersamin said.
The budget proposal of the OP did not make any specific mention of the CIF and SPFs for 2024.