Tuesday, March 28, 2023

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HOWIE SEE IT: A not so intelligent intelligence fund

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Okada Manila
Hotel Okura Manila
The Manor at Camp John Hay
Novotel Manila
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By Atty. Howie Calleja

As a brief backgrounder, the existence of a Confidential and Intelligence Fund (CIF) was created in a 2015 joint circular between the Commission on Audit (COA), Department of Budget and Management (DBM), Department of the Interior and Local Government, Governance Commission for Government-Owned and Controlled Corporations (GCG) and the Department of National Defense.

As the name implies this lump sum allocation is set aside in the national budget for expenses that involve surveillance and intelligence information-gathering activities; thus, these funds are for confidential expenses related to surveillance activities in civilian government agencies that are intended to support their mandate or operations. Similarly, intelligence funds are for intelligence expenses related to information-gathering activities of uniformed and military personnel and intelligence practitioners that have direct impact on national security.

In so doing, auditing them could be quite difficult as the COA (due to the nature of these funds) is left to trust whatever NGAs, local governments and GOCCs submit for them to countercheck. But the 2015 joint circular provides that NGAs, local governments and GOCCs should prepare a physical and financial plan supporting their request for confidential and/or intelligence funds containing the estimated amount per project, activity and program.

Moreover, Confidential and intelligence funds cannot be used for (a) Salaries, wages, overtime, additional compensation, allowance or other fringe benefits of officials and employees who are employed by the government in whatever capacity or elected officials, except when authorized by law; (b) Representation, consultancy fees or entertainment expenses; and (c) Construction or acquisition of buildings or housing structures.

This being said, the allocation of such funds becomes not so “intelligent” when it becomes unnecessary and excessive. Unnecessary, when allocations are given to agencies whose nature of its existence has nothing to do with “surveillance” vis-à-vis national security — and let me emphasize the word “nature of existence” meaning its raison d’etre. Excessive, when such allocations (estimated at 9.29 billion pesos combined CIF) is even bigger than other significant offices like the Civil Service Commission (P1.940 billion), the Commission on Human Rights (P833.7 million), Department of Human Settlements and Urban Development (P1.451 billion), and the Department of Tourism (P3.518 billion).

May I likewise emphasize that when agencies in the past existed without the CIF (e.g. DEPED during the time Bro. Armin) its prudent allocation at this point in time could be for teachers and other educational facilities. Moreover, instead of borrowing more money from our rising national debt wouldn’t it be more fiscally responsible to use the CIF for more significant government spending?

I join Rep. Edcel Lagman of the first district of Albay when he asserts that “since the utilization of confidential and intelligence funds are shrouded in mystery and the supposed audit by the Commission on Audit could not be disclosed to the Congress and the public, these funds breed corruption. The more enormous the funds are, the greater the magnitude is for the possibility of graft.” In this time of worsening financial woes, prudent utilization of public funds must be safeguarded and ensured.

To date, the 2023 General Appropriations Bill (GAB) marks P9,287,675,000 for confidential and intelligence funds—P4,330,048,000 marked as confidential funds and P4,957,627,000 as intelligence funds thus let me conclude that public vigilance must be exercised through a Senate oversight committee. It is incumbent upon our legislators appropriating this budget that such abuse is not done in granting this scarce financial resource we don’t have the luxury to squander

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