Press Release
September 18, 2023

Transcript of Interview: Senator Risa Hontiveros with Karen Davila, ANC Headstart
September 18, 2023

Q: You said, "I don't need your respect, what I need is for you to explain or your accountability when it comes to these funds." Let's do an overview first. The P125-M in confidential funds that was transferred to her office in 2022, was there something wrong with this?

SRH: Well, apparently, there is something not right with this. Nakatawag agad ng pansin ng aking Senate Minority leader Koko Pimentel and even another former Senate President, si former Senator Frank Drilon. Kasi malinaw kahit, you know, basahin niyo ang dokumento ng budget for that year, wala namang line item for confidential funds for OVP, na yun lang yung proper na pwedeng lipatan ng funds from the OP.

Kasi sabi kung may savings ang isang opisina tulad ng OP, kung may item sa ibang opisina na pwedeng ia-augment then naging proper sana ang transfer. Pero yun na nga, wala namang line item for confidential funds sa OVP na pwedeng lipatan ng budget from savings of OP. And apparently, further sleuthing by our budget experts inside and outside the government showed na ang pinagkuhanan sa OP budget are contingent funds, o isa pang medyo misteryosong animal sa budget instrument, that like confidential funds, like even intelligence funds, yang contingent funds should be subject to more transparency and accountability hindi lang para sa amin sa Kongreso, also for the citizen taxpayers.

Q: Now I want the viewer to understand this more, once we hear "fund, fund, fund," the viewers already lost, okay there's so many funds in the budget. So first, the Office of the President through the Executive Secretary, came out with a statement a few weeks ago confirming and defending that the Office of the President transferred the confidential funds to the Office of the VP under special provision 1.

And then today, the Department of Budget and Management clarifies hindi pala office ng OP it came from the contingent fund, so the contingent fund, I wanted to ask you, had a budget of P7B in 2022. And it says that it can fund requirements for new or urgent activities of government agencies, GOCCs, and LGUs that need to be implemented or paid during the year, such as but not limited to, and then there's a list. The Office of the Vice President is harping on the "not limited to". Kumbaga, pwede mong gamitin kasi, "not limited to."

SRH: Well pansin natin, the more they clarify medyo lalong lumalabo kasi paiba-iba yung mga paliwanag nila. Ano ba talaga? Confidential fund ba yan mula sa OP o sa OVP? Ay hindi pala kasi tumutol ang mga tao, paano naging confidential fund transfer when there was no line item budget for OVP to which any savings from OP could have been properly transferred to augment that OVP line item budget?

So nag-iba naman ang paliwanag nila, from ES, to DBM to OP ngayon, "Ay ang source pala ay contingent funds." So alam nyo if something has been straightforward, defensible, and accountable, dapat naging simple lang ang paliwanag. The more na paiba-iba ang paliwanag nila nagmumukhang hindi maliwanag kundi malabo. So now our attention has been drawn to the contingent funds from the OP. Kahit yun subject to scrutiny not only by Congress, but by the citizens at maging simple. diretso, katanggap-tanggap ang paliwanag para magmukhang tama, kung talagang tama. In fact, our attention has been drawn even more, not less, dito sa saga ng paliwanag at paulit-ulit na paliwanag tungkol sa confidential funds na iyan.

Q: Now the DBM secretary, Secretary Pangandaman describes this she said, it's technically not a transfer but the fund was released from the contingent fund. Is that allowed? Is that legal?

SRH: Well ang hirap eh, tuwing nagbabago ang paliwanag nila saan galing yang pondong inilipat sa OVP? So then they have to change the technical terms they use for each source para magmukhang proper, para magmukhang by the book. Dahil apparently, each source of funds, kung confidential yan or contingent yan, may tamang term para sa paglipat. So hindi na raw augmentation, transfer na siya, hindi na siya transfer, release na siya.

So di ba nagmumukhang, hmmm suspect? Kasi bakit paiba-iba ang paliwanag? And then they have to work backwards to use the proper terms para sabihing, "technically, it was not this, it was not that." When you hear "technically" pag pinag-uusapan ang budget issues, naiisip mo tuloy, "Oh sounds like, technical malversation." And that's all is Congress is trying to get to the bottom of, kasi pag budget debates, inaaral namin ang COA reports, inaaral din namin ang paliwanag sa nangyari sa budget of the previous year or previous years as in this case, this mysterious transfer of money from OP to OVP para sa taong 2022.

Q: Didn't the COA come out with a memorandum in 2015 to limit and explain the use of where the confidential funds can be used ?

SRH: Certainly, and even si VP Sara, sina-cite niya yun para ipaliwanag kung saan daw ginagastos at gagastusin ng OVP pati ng DepEd bilang secretary of education din sila yung confidential funds na hiningi, natanggap, ginamit at hinihingi ulit nila. And even that memo of 2015 provides limits kasi nga may menu in fact, explicit siya, hindi lang menu kung saan pwedeng gamitin, may listahan pa ng mga bagay na hindi pwedeng gamitan ng confidential funds na ito.

So ngayon that they're changing their tunes every few days, every week, hindi pala confidential funds, yan daw ngayon ay contingent funds. Bukas kaya ano nang itatawag nila diyan para subukang ipaliwanag? So, problem is there's a paper trail in terms of that memo and there are previous laws and also executive issuances, mayroon pa ngang jurisprudence tulad nang sa DAP, mahuhuli talaga sila kung hindi nila yun ginagawa properly in the first place.

Q: So, the COA in 2015 the memo says, confidential and intelligence funds shall only be used for the following or related confidential activities: buying information, rental or transport expenses related to maintaining safehouse, when I read it was quite shocking the contingency is asking for confidential funds and here it's like info, safehouses, purchase of supplies that you cannot get on regular procurement, rewarding informers, etc.

Basically it's so clear, and I wanted to ask you, in the Senate, they reported where they spent their funds. Libreng sakay, entrep program, Pagbabago Campaign distribution of free school supplies, Pagbabago a million learners and tree planting, Pansarap feeding program, so is that allowed?

SRH: Well it's actually, it could be explained as allowable and yung mga ganyang proyekto o programa, bagamat pwede nating sabihin, o they are just complementary to what other line agencies are doing.

Pwede naman nilang ilagay sa line item budget nila para klaro taon-taon na pwede nilang i-account sa COA at saka sa Kongreso come every budget debate. Bakit ipipilit na doon daw gagastusin bilang confidential funds? So that's why I've been saying kung ganyan naman ang mga programa at proyekto nyo, PAPs, Programs, Activities, Projects, ilipat nyo na lang sa line item budget ng OVP, ng DepEd.

More than that, ilipat talaga natin ang confi funds na yan ng civilian agencies which don't have a primary national security mandate or intelligence mandate to the intelligence agencies talaga who are focused in both internal and external defense lalo na sa West Philippine Sea. Intel is such a professional even niche activity kaya iwan natin sa mga eksperto.

And then yung isang ipinapaliwanag din nila that the memo allows them to procure certain products and services not through the regular procurement processes eh pati diyan nahuhuli sila, kasi COA also noticed na may mga kontrata ng DepEd from the previous but also spilling over to the current administration na ini-split nila, contract splitting which is per COA rules is not allowed, kasi nga iniiwasan noon, tinatakasan noon ang procurement rules. Ao tuwing nagtwi-twist sila, naga-acrobatics sila para diumano ipaliwanag itong sa confi funds noon at ngayon, mas lalong nabubuhol.

Q: Now technically speaking, I mean, personalities aside here, could the Office of the Vice President have committed technical malversation?

SRH: Well I'm not sure about technical malversation because there are technical requirements to prove that but what is apparent to me at up to this point in time, bilang isang mambabatas at bilang isang mamamayan, they are not completely forthright about these confidential funds. Kasi bakit may lumitaw, nakatawag ng pansin sa ating mga mata, na hindi nila maipaliwanag agad ng klaro?

Marmaing patutsada pa nga tungkol sa drama, tungkol sa respect. Simpleng usapin ito, what is being asked for is plain and simple accountability and if you can't give that at the outset, then probably there's something not right or maybe there's something wrong.

And moving forward, responsibilidad natin yan sa Kongreso na iwasto, singilin, sitahin at singilin because the money is in government's hands. The money isn't even ours as government, yang pera na iyan galing sa mamamayan, sa buwis na ibinabayad so it's only proper that a clear and proper accountability be made. Sa private sector nag-aaccount sila at pag hindi nila ginagawa, pinaparusahan, civil society din. Ano pa ang gobyerno? Lalo na gobyerno, duty bearer kami eh.

Q: For example, the Office of the Vice President, two questions on this, House Appropriations Vice Chairperson Stella Quimbo, in an interview in ANC, said that there are two things here, the item which is confidential and intelligence funds, she claims, already existed in 2022 but the amount is zero.

So you have someone who is Congresswoman Stella Quimbo who of course, I mean, to some, I mean Congressmen and Senators can read. The weird part is, here's a congresswoman that's respected who says the line item existed but it was zero. Then here's Barry Gutierrez, no the line item didn't exist. He describes this as an account category heading. So now, you have an ordinary Filipino, what is it, if you cannot read dog as dog, then we are having a problem. Am I making sense?

SRH: You are, you are making more sense than some people.

Q: You re-interpret something that you can, like read clearly, what is it Senator, ano ba yun?

SRH: Yun na nga, kaya nga may sinasabing "plain reading." Ganito or ganyan, if it walks like, talks like, barks like or doesn't bark like a dog, then it is or it isn't a dog. So sa plain reading ng dokumentong yon, I also read it the way Barry Gutierrez reads it.

Yung confidential and intel funds, nandoon siya sa category, yung title ng sumunod na listahan. At doon sa linya ng confidential funds, wala talaga, zero. And sa budgeting, you cannot augment a nothing. Dapat may isang daan diyan o isang libo o isang milyon yung piso na nakalagay diyan na pwedeng i-augment.

So plain and simple reading on our part, with our eyes, intellectual honesty will require of us to read and to say na wala eh, walang item doon sa ilalim ng kategoryang yon.

Q: Is that described as a line item, kahit zero?

SRH: No, not by my reading. It is not a line item. And kahit istretch pa nila para sabihing, "Okay kung hindi man siya line item pero pwedeng release-an, it could have been released from the contingent funds of the OP." Ah, still, contingent funds have to be properly accounted for, at kung hindi nila kinayang gawin yon in previous years, I think it is an important task for Congress this year, sa aming current budget debates, to provide for clear processes of accountability even over contingent funds in 2024 onwards.

Q: You've mentioned the DAP ruling jurisprudence, and Article VI Section 25 of the Constitution as quoted by former Senator Franklin Drilon, it seems quite clear to the ordinary reader that you can only augment coming from your own office if you have savings. You can transfer savings from one office to another.

SRH: Correct. So if they will hold on to their explanation na in-augment ng OP yung OVP confi funds, dapat may prior announcement or declaration of savings. So ang hirap eh, they have to backtrack, not to cover up their trail but to somehow produce a paper trail para ipaliwanag itong transfer of confi funds.

Kung mas pipiliin naman nila yung paliwanag na galing sa contingent funds, still greater accountability has to be demonstrated about that. Walang kawala eh.

Q: Was the transfer unconstitutional?

SRH: Well that is what are some are questioning, I believe lawyers are studying that deeper, so aabangan ko rin yung kanilang findings and payo so that moving forward, kaming lahat na nagtatrabaho sa gobyerno should be better minded to follow the law, including the budget laws, and be mindful of jurisprudence, kasi nga nageffort na ang Supreme Court, almost a decade ago, to come out with that ruling. De-deadmahin pa ba natin yun?

Q: Have confidential funds, in your eyes, become political accommodation?

SRH: Yes, unfortunately, napakapersonalistic na nga nung ating politika. Kulang na kulang tayo sa programmatic or party-based politika, I mean, if there were more genuine political parties, mas maeexercise namin kahit yung fiscal discipline even over government through our parties, through our party representatives in the different branches of government.

Dahil kulang na kulang pa yan, halos wala pa yan, edi the institutions have to step up and yan yung sinusubukan naming gawin sa Kongreso, na hindi pwede ang confidential funds ay parang nakasubi na alkansya, can be dipped into fast and loose at any time, and then walang sagutin kapag may nakapansin, kapag sinita galit ka pa? Sasabihin mo drama lang yan, respect yan?

Okay, you want to talk respect? Respect the budget process. Respect the constitutional requirements. Respect the citizen taxpayers. Yun lang naman ang hinihingi.

Q: Ang tanong dito, is the release of confidential funds based on the personality of the head of the agency? For example, Leni Robredo had no confidential funds. Then now the present Vice President has 500 million.

SRH: That is a good question. What if in the future, may mga future Vice Presidents, ang hihingin nila, zero ulit. Parang walang logic. Walang science nga. And the science has to be based on our laws, based on the experiences of previous budgets. Kahit tingnan natin yung dati nating mga VP from GMA to former VP Binay hanggang kay VP Leni, kung hindi man zero, napakaliit na fraction kumpara sa hinihingi ngayong P500 million.

So kailangan talaga irationalize hindi based sa personality pero sa totoong talagang kailangan natin na budget items sa OVP. Bilang isang civilian agency na wala naman talagang direct intelligence mandate, for example, ni ang DepEd, for which VP and Sec. Sara said na kailangan ng intel - at ang subject ng intel mga learners, teaching and non-teaching personnel, my gosh.

Ilagay natin sa ayos. Yung intelligence needs ng gobyerno should properly in the largest part be lodged to the intelligence agencies, so that we can leave them to the expert, and let them have an accounting of those every budget season.

Q: There aren't a lot of voices asking for accountability with the lawmakers when it comes to VP Sara Duterte. Some have said it is a matter of parliamentary courtesy, of courtesy to the Office of the Vice President, but some of whom I have spoken to say that it is because of fear, because she is so popular. When you see your colleagues not questioning something as clear as day as this, how are taking this with the Senate today?

SRH: In fairness to our colleagues, bukod samin ni Senate Minority Leader Koko Pimentel, there were also a few others na nagtanong doon sa hearing dun sa OVP at pati sa DepEd. Kaya inaasahan ko na when Senator Koko and I propose our amendments at the proper time, para ilipat yung confi funds sa line item budgets at ilipat yung confi funds doon sa intelligence funds ng mga totoong intelligence agencies, na may K talaga na gumatos ng confi funds, na again, we will find support in the Senate, as we did during the last budget debates.

At sana, hindi ito madelete sa bicameral conference committee hearings. Sana, pareho kaming mga senador at mga representative na makakita na tama na yung bad precedent last year. Pinagbigyan eh, yung confi at intel funds ng OVP, DepEd and others. Sana natuto kami para this year, iligay namin sa tamang paglagyan so that a better accounting can be made by the agencies and by COA in next year's budget debates.

Q: What is your message to VP Sara Duterte?

SRH: Oh, the same as from the start - Madam VP, ano ba yung mandates niyo, yung programs, activities and projects sa ilalim noon, ay kinailangan niyo na hingin yung ganito kalaking mga confi funds? Trabaho lang, walang drama. Kung respeto ang gusto mo pagusapan, hindi yan personal sa ating dalawa. Bigyan niyo ng respeto yung Kongresong nagaappropriate ng budget, at higit pa sa amin, bigyan niyo ng respeto yung mamamayan na nagbabayad ng buwis na ginagamit niyo.

Q: You are asking for an investigation in aid of legislation over what you described as government's uncoordinated, contradicting policies on rice regulation. Were you against the price ceiling on rice?

SRH: I supported the private sector's call after the fact, fait accompli, na may price control na, at least igsian yung panahon niyan, not more than two to three weeks. At the outset hindi siya tamang solusyon sa presyo ng bigas. It is a good or bad example of a "cure" that could be even worse than the disease. Kasi hindi naman niyan sasagutin yung problema ng hoarding, lalo na smuggling. It places rice even more out of the reach of the poor, and it punishes small retailers, kaya dumadami yung nagsasara na lang muna ng negosyo kesa malugi.

Ang totoong dapat na mga solusyon, and some of these were suggested diumano ng Rice Tariffication Law, hindi naman ginagawa, hindi naman nakakarating ang dagdag taripa sa mga magsasaka.

Dapat yung mga totoong solusyon ang ipatupad, ang suportahan, - subsidy sa mga magsasaka, suporta in terms of farm inputs all the way to post-harvest facilities and marketing. Go after yung mga totoong smugglers at large-scale economic saboteurs sa halip na tulad sa asukal, na mukhang may favored na naman. At huwag po tayo mag-angkat sa panahon ng pag-aani, kasi talagang mawa-wallop lalo yung ating mga magsasaka. Alagaan yung mga retailer, yung mga maliliit na nagbebenta na huwag pilitin na magbenta ng lower than yung ginastos nila sa pagbili sa mga wholesalers. May mga tamang solusyon - bakit ito ang ginawa?

Q: The NFA got a budget of P7 billion, I believe. Let's talk about the purpose of the NFA.

SRH: The primary purpose of which hindi nila natutupad ngayon. Dapat may buffer stock sila, kung tamang pag-angkat, tamang timing at magnitude at volume, primarily ng NFA para sa ganitong panahon na kulang ang abot-kayang bigas, lalo na sa mga mahihirap, mayroong buffer stock ang NFA. Ngayon caught flat footed sila.

So bukod sa pagreview ng Rice Tariffication Law, tingnan natin ulit yung mandato ng DA at ng NFA at paano nila tinutupad o hindi tinutupad ito. What can or should we do to enable them to fulfill their so important mandate for the people, lalo na yung mga mahihirap na pinakabulnerable sa gutom.

Q: You have some rice experts suggesting that rice tariffs should go down to zero. What are your thoughts?

SRH: Ayan na naman, ang gulo gulo ng polisiya nila. Mabuti naman na binubyag ni Sec. Diokno na nagulat daw sila, pero paano sila magugulat sa rice price cap? Hindi ba sila naguusap? And in the same breath, sinabi ni Sec. Diokno na ibagsak sa zero ang taripa, ano ba yan Kuya? Ano ba talaga? Papatayin ba ang mga magsasaka, ang mga domestic producer ng palay?

Dapat sila yung pangunahing susuportahan para mapakain nila sa abot-kayang presyo yung ating mga mamimili. Kung kailangan man ng pag-angkat, it should be at the proper time, not during harvest season and in the proper volumes, kung ano lamang yung kulang sa domestic productions. At pati yung pag-angkat na yan may tamang taripa out of respect and support and protection for our domestic rice sector. They are getting it all wrong.

Q: There is talk that Sec. Arsenio Balisacan might be the next DA chief. What are your thoughts on that?

SRH: Bukod kay Rep. Stella, na nirerespetong ekonomista mula nang nasa academe siya, si Sec. Arsi ay ginagalang din na academician, at kilalang may puso para sa agrikultura at agricultural economics. At bukod sa kanya, mayroon pang may iba pang, kung hindi man kasalukuyan ay dating nagsilbi sa ating gobyerno, sa ating economic management sector.

Sana sa wakas ay magappoint na si Presidente ng DA Secretary na magiging kapartner talaga niya sa pagbuo ng tamang at complementary, not contradictory, na rice and other agricultural policies, at magpapatupad ng mga ito, at lalaban sa smuggling at economic sabotage na nakikita natin dati sa ibang mga produce.

Q: Somebody suggested, why not former Sen. Ping Lacson?

SRH: Oh wow. That's super out of the box, you might want to ask Sen. Ping about that. Yes I agree we need out of the box solutions and certainly solid ang record ni Sen. Ping sa anti-corruption and economic sabotage and smuggling, you have to ask lang kung sa agriculture, yan ba yung shop niya, since we are talking about ilagay ang tama sa tamang dapat, like intel funds sa intel agencies. You would have to ask Sen. Ping kung fit ba siya sa kahon ng agriculture.

Q: Over the weekend, the Armed Forces of the Philippines said that they are suspecting that China is doing massive coral harvesting in the West Philippine Sea. How do we move forward from this?

SRH: Well posibleng ripe talaga iyan for a Senate resolution and investigation, kasi it would not be the first time na nagenvironmental degradation ang Tsina sa ating dagat. They also dredged our sea floor to invent their artificial islands, militarize them, within the West Philippine Sea and our exclusive economic zone, para iclaim na teritoryo nila.

A few years ago, yung isang ship nila, ay sumagasa sa isang bahura, kaya at the time siningil ko sila, kasi there is a way na ikwenta yung economic value ng mga ganyang marine ecosystems. In the same way, na years ago, may utang ang US sa atin because one of their vessels crashed into reefs in the Tubbataha. Salamat sa Armed Forces of the Philippines sa pagbunyag nito, I think it deserves an investigation, at idagdag natin sa humahabang litsahan ng utang ng Tsina sa ating bansa.

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