The Department of Budget and Management (DBM) has assured Congress that the Office of the President didn’t subvert the House’s power over the purse when it released contingency funds to the office of Vice President Sara Duterte late last year, the chairman of the House Committee on Appropriations said on Thursday.
In a statement, AKO Bicol Partylist Rep. Elizaldy Co, chairman of the appropriations committee, said the letter from Budget Secretary Amenah Pangandaman clarified that the P125 million released to the Office of the Vice President came from the P7 billion budget set aside as the Contingent Fund for 2022 and was intended to support the OVP’s Good Governance Engagements and Social Services Projects.
The amount of P125 million is the larger part of the total P221.42 million released to the OVP and sourced from the Contingent Fund under last year’s General Appropriations Act approved by Congress.
Pangandaman said the release of funds to Vice President Duterte’s office “was not an augmentation or transfer of funds from the Office of the President,” an action declared in 2014 as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in its ruling penned by Justice Lucas Bersamin, now executive secretary, over the Araullo versus Aquino case.
The ruling on the Araullo case declared unconstitutional the act of withdrawing unobligated allotments from implementing agencies, declaring them as savings, then transferring those savings to offices outside the Executive Department to fund projects not covered by the GAA because it oversteps the power of Congress to appropriate public funds.
“While it is understandable that, at the outset, the release of funds to the OVP may be perceived as a transfer, the same was not technically so, for such a release was funded from the contingent fund under the FY 2022 GAA and not from the budget of the OP,” Pangandaman said in her letter to the Rep. Co.
The budget chief also noted that the use of contingent funds isn’t limited to a particular agency or office and only prohibits its use for the purchase of motor vehicles. By their nature, she said contingent funds are intended to be used for expenditures not anticipated during the preparation of the budget.
Earlier, the Makabayan bloc raised concerns regarding the grant of P125 million in confidential funds to the Office of the Vice President, even though it was not explicitly allocated in the 2022 General Appropriations Act.
According to the bloc, a fund transfer by the president to a non-existent item may involve violations of the Constitution and other laws.
Makabayan pointed out that the Contingent Fund, as stated in the 2022 General Appropriations Act, is authorized for specific extraordinary cases such as legal obligations, requirements of newly created offices, deficiencies in the appropriations for presidential travels, and similar cases. It does not grant unlimited authority for the president to allocate funds for any purpose, including confidential expenses.
Makabayan emphasized that confidential as well as intelligence funds require explicit congressional authorization.
“Otherwise, the President would be able to grant himself or other agencies under the executive branch confidential and intelligence funds at will using the Contingent Fund. Kahit anong ahensya na lang pwedeng bigyan ng CF or IF kahit wala sa national budget,” the bloc said.
In this light, the Makabayan bloc called for the abolition of “untransparent confidential funds because they are prone to abuse.”