Court orders VP to comment on lawsuit vs confidential funds

Court orders VP to comment on lawsuit vs confidential funds

THE PHILIPPINE SUPREME Court (SC) has ordered the Office of the Vice President (OVP) to comment on a lawsuit seeking to void the transfer of P125 million in confidential funds to the agency last year for being illegal.

Vice-President Sara Duterte-Carpio was given 10 days to file her pleading, Clerk of Court Marife Lomibao-Cuevas said in a two-page notice released on Monday, citing a Nov. 14 order by the tribunal.

Executive Secretary Lucas P. Bersamin and Budget Secretary Amenah F. Pangandaman were also ordered to comment on the petition filed last month by a group of lawyers.

In the same resolution, the High Court ordered the plaintiffs to comply with court guidelines including the submission of an electronic copy of the petition and a verified declaration of a true copy.

In a 49-page petition filed on Nov. 7, the plaintiffs including former Election chief Christian S. Monsod and former Finance Undersecretary Maria Cielo D. Magno asked the tribunal to order the return of the funds to the National Treasury.

The plaintiffs argued that the Office of the President, from which the budget came, does not have the power to transfer its contingency fund to the Vice President because only Congress can do so.

“Clearly, the transfer from the contingency fund of the Office of the President to an inexistent ‘confidential fund’ is invalid, much not having a valid purpose for the said unlawful transfer,” according to a copy of the petition.

The plaintiffs said the OVP spent the P125 million in 11 days, “much to the prejudice and burden of the Filipino people.”

Ms. Duterte-Carpio earlier said the lawsuit would once and for all settle the validity of the fund transfer to her office.

The Budget department released P221.42 million to the office in December, P155 million of which was disbursed and P66.42 million remained as unobligated allotments, the plaintiffs said.

The petitioners said the 2022 General Appropriations Act neither gave the Vice President an item nor an allotment for confidential funds.

They noted that confidential and intelligence expenses require not only strong internal controls in their release and use, but also strict accounting and auditing rules to prevent misuse.

In contrast, the Vice President’s request for confidential funds was for various projects and activities under the office’s good governance program, aside from official engagements and functional representation in international and domestic events.

“The fund transferred from the contingency fund of the Office of the President were made to the inexistent confidential fund of respondent Office of the Vice President despite there being existing specific budget items to cover the very stated purposes,” according to the petition.

Ms. Duterte-Carpio had sought P500 million in confidential funds for her office and another P150 million for the Education department, which she also heads, for next year.

Lawmakers have since stripped several agencies including her office of the confidential budgets, transferring P1.23 billion worth of these funds to security agencies amid worsening tensions with China. — Jomel R. Paguian