Press Release
October 6, 2022


Q: You have pointed out that 150 million peso confidential funds for the Department of Education is bigger than the 141 million pesos that the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency is asking for. What is the justification offered to you about this? Are you satisfied with the explanation given?

Senator Risa Hontiveros: I'm not questioning the legal basis of confidential funds for civilian agencies. But the explanation really left a lot to be desired. Hindi parin katanggap-tanggap kasi, for example, wala namang kakayahan o infrastructure ang DepEd to conduct surveillance activities or even crime-busting, kaya hindi talaga ako makapaniwala pa anong magiging risonable na yun na nga mas mataas ang hinihinging confidential and intelligence funds ng DepEd kaysa pa sa confidential funds ng State intelligence agency natin, which is NICA.

And I'm speaking just specifically about the intel funds, not the whole budget. Of course, I share in the Department's advocacy of making schools safe spaces for our children, but let's leave it to the pros. Kung yung NICA aagawin yung education mandate ng DepEd, tututol din ako. In the same way, yung intelligence and security functions, yun na nga, hindi yun mandato ng DepEd, so let's leave those to the pros.

Any intelligence operation that DepEd might conduct would be redundant. Meron na tayong existing national security, national defense, law enforcement, even women and children protection governmental bodies and programs. Kapag ang DepEd ay humingi at gumastos ng malaking intel funds, hindi masusulit yung pondong yun. Yun na nga eh, in the first place, hindi nila ito mandato.

Right now, may hinaharap na tayong matinding education crisis. So madidistract lang ang education agency kung magfofocus din sila sa national security. Why would we compromise on educational reform and programs when we could realign these confidential and intelligent funds to meet those needs within DepEd itself? Kaya nagsimula na ako noong budget hearing ng DepEd itanong kung pwedeng irealign yung ganyang confidential and intelligent funds ng DepEd sa mga mandato talaga nila tulad halimbawa ng indigenous peoples education.

In the same way, we're not yet out of the woods on the pandemic. Tumataas ang COVID cases sa mga schools and DepEd can also do something about that. Ito ang mga mandato talaga ng DepEd and urgent concerns right now, and I believe, these are what are covered also for example in the BEDP, yung basic education development plan 2030 that the department launched in 2020.

Q: Contextualize for us the amount, the significance of the amount. 150 million pesos. It recently emerged that the National Expenditure Program actually proposed a 0 budget for SPED, even though DepEd asked for 532 million pesos, and you have this 150 million pesos for the confidential funds. In terms of the money, where should that money go?

SRH: It should really go to education mandates, including special education. I also raised that question during the DepEd's budget hearing at salamat naman sa DepEd, sinabi nila during that hearing that they will indeed realign some of their department funds to reinstate items like the SPED. So kung nagsisimula na sila in that direction and in fact they also spoke positively about reinstating funds for IP education, edi ituloy na nila yung ganyang positive direction that they have started to set even during this budget debate. So pati itong 150 million na confidential and intelligent funds, again, larger even than the confidential funds of NICA itself, edi i-realign narin ng DepEd sa loob ng kanilang department.

Q: Aside from the 150 million confidential funds of DepEd, you also have the office of the Vice President asking for 500 million pesos confidential funds and because confidential funds are under the discretion of the head of agency, this literally means 650 million will be under the control of the Vice President. Add to this, the 4.5 billion pesos in confidential and intelligence funds within the control of the President. Thats a total of about 5 billion pesos. Should this be a cause of concern, given that as many budget experts pointed out it's not subject to the usual rules of accounting?

SRH: Exactly, and the constitutional mandate of COA is so important to prevent graft and corruption pero yung ganyang kalalaking pondo talaga they could be sources of temptation, precisely in that direction of graft and corruption. And gusto natin maging proactive, preventive about it. My Minority Leader, Sen. Koko Pimentel, already interpellated that confidential and intelligence funds in the budget of the OVP at nabalitaan ko rin sa House naman, si Rep. Edcel Lagman of Albay of the Minority, he also raised concerns, in fact, he called on us legislators to also realign the total confidential and intelligence funds of the three agencies that you mentioned.

From the sheer magnitude of those funds, at kung saan silang ahensyang nakalodge, and as you pointed out, beyond the reach of normal auditing processes, kaya hindi nakakagulat that they would raise concerns. And tingin ko, fair subject ng attention and proposed amendments naming mga legislators.

Q: What's the likelihood at this point that these confidential and intelligence funds will be passed in the plenary? Is this good as passed?

SRH: It is not yet good as passed. Although nakalagpas na sa committee hearings, there is still the plenary debate to be faced by the total proposed national budget including itong mga items na ito sa mga matataas na ahensyang ito. So they are still subject to interpellation, they are still subject to proposed amendments. Tradition nga yung interparliamentary courtesy between and among the separate and co-equal branches of government, pero ang Kongreso naman ang nag-eexercise ng power of the purse. We not only oversee the proper and the correct or improper use of the national budget, government's money, the taxpayers' money, pero proactively tungkulin din namin na in the budget making process, na magsumikap kami as far as we can na the budget is properly laid out at walang ganitong mga items especially in those magnitude na hindi lang makakatawag ng pansin but will really raise concerns. I think that's only fair. We're just doing our duty and the executive, and there's also the judiciary there, I'm sure alam nila susubukan lang naming sundin ang aming constitutional mandate.

Q: Lastly, is it time to reconsider this practice of interparliamentary courtesy?

SRH: Perhaps not. Kaya naman naming maging courteous sa isa't isa, even when we're disagreeing with each other or if we are debating each other's budgets, or if we are proposing realignment. Kumbaga, kaya naman namin mag-disagree without being disagreeable, at least I'm speaking for myself, as a member of the Minority, and certainly, my Minority Leader as well and colleagues in the House, like Rep. Edcel.

Q: I'm referring to the budget of the Vice President and President being automatically passed or at least breeze through the appropriations committee level of both chambers. Is that something that we should reconsider?

SRH: Oh, I see. In practice, we are actually reconsidering it whenever we raise those interpellation questions or whenever we propose such amendments. So I think there's a healthy tension that remains alive and well on that matter of the practice interparliamentary courtesy.

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