Marcos Allies Quarrel Over Confidential Funds in the Philippines

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Marcos Allies Quarrel Over Confidential Funds in the Philippines

The controversy over the use of the special funds has opened up rifts within the Marcos “unity government.”

Marcos Allies Quarrel Over Confidential Funds in the Philippines

Philippine Vice President Sara Duterte, who is currently at the center of a controversy over the use of confidential and intelligence funds (CIFs).

Credit: Facebook/Inday Sara Duterte

Allies of Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. are squabbling over the allocation of confidential and intelligence funds (CIFs), which could undermine the “unity government” that rose to power in 2022.

CIFs are not subjected to normal auditing rules because it is assumed that law enforcement agencies use them for sensitive national security matters. During the budget deliberations in August, opposition lawmakers questioned the CIF request of civilian agencies, including the Department of Education headed by Vice President Sara Duterte.

Duterte asserted that “education is intertwined with national security” but she also assured Congress that her office can do away with CIFs. But when Congress realigned the budget, Duterte retorted that those who are against CIFs are “enemies of the state.” The CIFs were actually redirected to the intelligence and surveillance operations of the Philippine Coast Guard and other security agencies in charge of defending the country’s maritime borders in the South China Sea (known as the West Philippine Sea in the Philippines).

Congress sessions are currently suspended and will not resume until next month. It is up to the Senate and the bicameral committee of both Houses of Congress to restore the CIF request of Duterte.

Duterte supporters have claimed that those who are eyeing the presidency in 2028 could be fueling the criticisms against the vice president’s use of CIF. They have accused House Speaker Martin Romualdez, the president’s first cousin, of harboring partisan motives for removing Duterte’s CIF allocation.

This is not the first time that Romualdez has been pitted against Duterte. In May, Duterte resigned from her party as chairperson and posted a cryptic message on social media about a person she described as an ambitious male monster. This took place when Romualdez demoted the position of former President Gloria Arroyo, who is a deputy speaker at the House of Representatives. Duterte and Arroyo are close allies.

Last week, Duterte’s father, former President Rodrigo Duterte, publicly spoke about the CIF issue and accused the House of Representatives of being “the most rotten institution.” He said there should be an audit of funds used by Romualdez, especially if the latter were to run for president.

In response, House leaders advised the former president to be more circumspect in his statements. “Rather than making sweeping allegations in the media, we advise the former President, if he has tangible evidence of wrongdoing, to present it to the appropriate authorities,” the lawmakers said.

They insisted that the decision to realign the CIFs “was made for the benefit of the nation and not as a personal affront to any individual, including the Vice President.”

“Casting these decisions in a light of personal vendettas is a disservice to the diligent members of the House of the People and the very essence of our democratic process,” the lawmakers’ statement added.

In a media interview, House Secretary General Reginald Velasco expressed concern about the elder Duterte’s warning to call on the people if Congress funds are not audited.

“If you watched the entire video – it seems that he said if the House and other agencies are not audited, he will call on businessmen, military – so this appears to be a people power,” he said.

People Power uprisings toppled governments in 1986 and 2001. The father of the current president ruled as a dictator until his ouster through People Power in 1986.

As infighting among Marcos allies continues to heat up, stakeholders are hoping that it will result in a more transparent budget process. In an editorial, Philippine Daily Inquirer urged Congress to ensure that CIF allocations will not be abused.

“The clear winner in this political tussle is none other than ordinary taxpayers. As they should be. But the House should go further and institutionalize its newfound courage into a law that would henceforth bar the allocation of confidential funds to agencies that do not have intelligence-gathering functions,” the editorial said.

Marcos’ executive secretary defended the vice president’s CIF use but the president did not comment when Congress amended the government’s budget proposal. Maybe the silence has got to do with the fact that the president’s CIF remained intact. All eyes are now on the Senate, and whether it will touch the CIFs of the country’s top two leaders.