Opposition senators seek scrapping of VP intel fund

By Alyssa Nicole O. Tan, Reporter

AN OPPOSITION senator on Monday asked his peers to scrap the Philippine vice-president’s  (VP) intelligence funds for next year worth P500 million.

“The Office of the Vice-President is not entitled or should not be given confidential funds — that is my position,” Senator Aquilino Martin D. Pimentel III said in Filipino during plenary budget debates.

He said confidential funds are used for the surveillance activities of government agencies dealing with civilians, adding that the P500-million fund is better given to the Philippine Postal Corp. (PhilPost) to support so-called franking privileges.

“We learned last week that there are many [agencies] in need of funding, and here we have confidential funds that can be let go,” he said.

The P500-million intelligence fund is part of the vice-president’s P2.3-billion budget for next year.

Senator Juan Edgardo M. Angara, who heads the Senate finance committee, disagreed with Mr. Pimentel’s proposal.

“Although PhilPost may have a need, I think maybe we should look for other sources and not prejudice the Office of the Vice President,” he said. “That’s the second-highest official of the land who deserves our support.”

Twenty of the 24 senators are part of the majority that has largely allied itself with the ruling government. Two are part of the minority, while two more claim to be independent.

Mr. Pimentel said Vice-President Sara Duterte-Carpio’s office would still have P1.8 billion. “Do we still say we are not supportive of the Office of the Vice President, even with a P1.8-billion budget,” he asked, citing the office’s P702-million budget this year.

Mr. Angara defended the triple increase by citing the budget boost in the past years. He also said Ms. Carpio needs the funds to support her livelihood programs, free rides during a coronavirus pandemic and disaster response.

Mr. Pimentel earlier proposed to halve the Office of the President’s intelligence budget to P2.25 billion, saying there are agencies doing the job for the office.

Senator Ana Theresia “Risa” N. Hontiveros-Baraquel during plenary debates inquired about the P150-million confidential fund of the Education department, which is also headed by Ms. Carpio.

“I hope that our colleagues in the Senate will share the view that there are no extraordinarily compelling reasons to provide a confidential fund to the Education agency,” she told the Senate floor.

“We should empower school authorities to collaborate, and for national and local agencies to address and respond to peace and order, law enforcement and security needs,” she said in mixed English and Filipino. “We can use the confidential funds for more important priorities for young learners.”