Philippine Vice President Defends Use of Confidential Funds

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Philippine Vice President Defends Use of Confidential Funds

Sara Duterte’s opponents accuse her of improperly using confidential and intelligence funds, or CIFs, which are not subjected to standard auditing rules.

Philippine Vice President Defends Use of Confidential Funds

Philippine Vice President Sara Duterte poses for a photo in Tungao, Butuan City, Philippines, October 5, 2023.

Credit: Facebook/Inday Sara Duterte

Philippine Vice President Sara Duterte has defended her use of confidential and intelligence funds (CIF) and accused her critics of being “enemies of the state.”

The CIF is commonly used by law enforcement agencies to conduct surveillance and intelligence-gathering operations. These funds are not subjected to standard auditing rules because they are supposedly linked to sensitive national security matters. During the budget deliberations in August and September, some legislators questioned the CIF allocation for an increasing number of civilian agencies, including the Department of Education which is headed by Duterte.

Another issue was Duterte’s use of CIF in December 2022 because her office was not supposed to have an item for this type of spending. The budget bill sponsor even admitted that Duterte spent her CIF in just 11 days.

As more stakeholders expressed concern over the CIF allocation of Duterte and other civilian agencies, leaders of major parties in the House of Representatives have agreed to remove these controversial items and realign them to the funding requirements of the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency, National Security Council, Philippine Coast Guard, and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources.

In a joint statement, they cited the need to defend the country’s maritime borders in the South China Sea (officially called West Philippine Sea in the Philippines) to justify the transfer of the CIF of civilian agencies.

“Recognizing the rising security threats in the West Philippine Sea and the need to secure top officials, these agencies are better positioned to counteract security threats, protect our territorial waters, and secure the rights and access of Filipino fishermen to traditional fishing grounds,” read the statement.

The main budget sponsor added, “Now is the time to give our intelligence community the means to perform their duties, especially in these pressing times when we’re facing serious concerns in the West Philippine Sea.”

Duterte did not comment when the amended budget bill was approved by the House of Representatives on September 27. However, during an event at a regional police station, she insisted that her office is entitled to get a CIF to address security threats and create a safe learning environment for students and teachers.

She asserted too that CIF spending should not be restricted by “arbitrary timeframes.”

“The allocation of confidential funds should not be constrained by time. It matters not whether it takes one day or one year of spending; what truly matters is the safety and security of our people. We cannot cap the importance of protecting our citizens based on arbitrary timeframes,” Duterte said in her speech.

She continued by accusing critics of CIF of being enemies of the state (“kalaban ng bayan”).

“Anyone who attacks or undermines funds allocated for peace and order is naturally assumed to have insidious motivations,” she said. “Such actions go against the protection and well-being of our citizenry. Those who seek to compromise the security and development of our nation jeopardize the very fabric of our society and hinder our progress.”

Her combative stance could be attributed to the release of reports that she consistently requested a large amount of CIFs when she was mayor of Davao City. It coincided with her father’s term as the country’s president from 2016 to 2022.

Opposition lawmaker Rep. France Castro, who was among the first to question the CIF of Duterte, castigated the vice president for her remarks.

“In essence, she is saying – just give me more money when I ask for it, but do not ask how I spend it, and if you do ask, then you are an enemy of the state. It’s not like peace and order, safety and security, and national development won’t be achieved if there is no secret fund. I repeat, surveillance is not a function and mandate of her office,” she said in a media interview.

Asked for comment, House Speaker Martin Romualdez told the media that he is one with Duterte in underscoring the use of CIF in boosting the country’s security, but he also maintained that it is best entrusted to the intelligence units of the government.

President Ferdinand Marcos has remained silent on the issue although his Executive Secretary has assured the public that the use of CIF by Duterte in 2022 did not violate the law.

Despite the removal of the CIF of Duterte and other civilian agencies, the Senate can still restore these funds in the next two months. Another option for the Senate is to reallocate the funds instead to social services, food subsidies, and salary increases for public workers.