Editorial: Favor frugality

Vice President Sara Duterte must tell her allies in the House of Representatives to either not grant her office and the Department of Education (DepEd) a total of P650 million in confidential funds or reduce the funds significantly.Officials must be frugal and wise in spending public money these days.Duterte knows that the Philippine economy is still recovering from the ill effects brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic. The country is also facing a host of problems sparked by inflation and other factors, including the unstable oil price in the global market.Vice President Duterte’s confidential funds – P500 million for the Office of the Vice President (OVP) and P150 million for the DepEd, which she concurrently leads as its secretary – is too much, frankly speaking. Allocations of confidential funds for the previous holders of the OVP were no match for the current proposed budget: P6 million in 2009; P3 million, 2010; P6 million, 2011; and P9 million, 2012.The confidential funds are part of the P2.29 billion proposed budget for the OVP for next year.During the Sept. 22, 2022 budget deliberations at the House plenary, independent opposition lawmaker Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman pointed out that the proposed budget for the OVP is 258 percent higher than the total budget of P639.47 million for the previous OVP occupant (Leni Robredo) in the last six years.OVP budget sponsor Davao de Oro Rep. Maria Carmen Zamora replied to Lagman by defending the proposal. She said the increase in allocation for the OVP was for the continuation of some of the office’s projects and the implementation of new projects for pandemic recovery as well as the setup of satellite offices.Lagman said the previous vice presidents had been able to carry out their duties even without satellite offices.Vice President Duterte earlier said the proposed confidential funds for the OVP and DepEd could be used to address violence including sexual abuse, graft and corruption, illegal drugs, insurgency, terrorism and child labor, among others.OVP spokesperson Reynold Munsayac early this month said they requested the P2.2 billion budget for their “good governance” program, and the bulk of the budget “will go into the essential social services that we provide, such as the financial subsidy, medical assistance, burial assistance, free ride, and livelihood programs.”When asked during the plenary deliberations if Duterte is willing to forgo the confidential funds “in the spirit of patriotism and frugality,” the Vice President said through Zamora that she “defers to the decision of the majority of this honorable Congress.”Duterte must not defer the decision-making to Congress. She too has the power to decide; when she tells her allies in the legislative department that she favors frugality, they will surely listen to her.