By Melito Salazar Jr.
I normally do not listen to President Duterte’s speeches as he tends to talk too long, repeats his points not necessarily for emphasis, still uses expletives, and at the end, makes one wonder what it’s all about. However, I made an exception for the condemnation, actually destruction of smuggled luxury vehicles and motorcycles because I was informed that he would fire a customs official in front of the Bureau of Customs (BOC) staff during his speech.
I was glad I did because he did fire the official and intently looking at the BOC staff reactions I saw not inspired faces but mostly concern and yes, flashes of fear. The President must have noticed that too because he immediately shifted into defending his driven passion against corruption. I found appealing his attempt to emphatize with the daily burdens of government workers with low pay and rising inflation. He cautioned them to live within their means, referring to the fired Customs official who went on personal trips abroad, once to Europe when he only passed through on a trip when he was congressman. And he told them that if they had to meet extraordinary expenses like cancer treatment (which I personally am experiencing), they should not be tempted to turn to corruption. They could go to him and he will personally find the funds to help them. He joked that for those wanting to get married with a wedding reception in Shangri-La Hotel, he could host it, but only two tables.
He recounted how impressed he was with the dedication and service of Director Gerardo Legaspi, the doctors and staff of the Philippine General Hospital (PGH) that he immediately asked Pagcor Chair Andrea Domingo to give PGH P100 million monthly. Knowing the pressing needs of PGH as honorary chairman of the Pusong Pinoy Foundation upon the invitation of my cardiologist and classmate Dr. Raul Jara, I could appreciate the President’s gesture. Now, I thought, at least I know one source of the funding of the President’s generosity. At least it could not be from his bank accounts in the millions which Senator Trillanes always brings up.
Besides Pagcor, there is also the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) which the President could tap. In previous adminstrations, I recall a Social Fund in the Office of the President (OP) from which the President could draw, with augmentations from Pagcor and PCSO. Now, it looks like a direct funding from both agencies without going through the OP. I wonder though how the agencies’ regular beneficiaries would fare, competing with OP and how better the old system was for planning and monitoring purposes.
Anyway the Office of the President’s 2018 budget is quite huge, P6.03 billion, even if it is P14.4 billion less than in the 2017 budget. Part of the 2017 OP budget was P15.46 billion for the hosting of the 50th anniversary of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and related ASEAN summits, meaning that the OP had an effective increase in 2018. The portion which President Duterte can utilize is the P2.5-billion allocation, divided equally between confidential and intelligence funds. A Rappler investigative report states that “it is 5 times bigger than the combined funds the office received (a total of P500 million) in 2016 under the last budget enacted under the Aquino administration.”
By law, confidential funds can only be used for purchase of information necessary for the formulation and implementation of programs and projects relevant to the national security and peace and order, rental of vehicles related to confidential activities, rentals and incidental expenses related to maintenance of safehouses, purchase or rental of supplies for confidential operations that can not be done through regular procedures without compromising the information gathering activity concerned, payment of rewards to informers (non-employees of concerned government agency) subject to conditions, activities to uncover or prevent illegal activities that pose a clear and present danger to agency personnel/property… done in coordination with the appropriate law enforcement agencies and other purposes that may be authorized by the national budget or other special laws. Intelligence funds can only be used by uniformed and military personnel and intelligence practitioners for intelligence and counter-intelligence activities that have direct impact on national security and special projects and operations, as approved by the head of agency, involving covert or semi-covert psychological, Internal security operation, and peace and order activities, as well as campaigns against lawlessness and lawless elements involving intelligence acitivities.
Despite these restrictions, the reality is that the Commission on Audit just accepts a sealed envelope submitted to the chairman by the Office of the President and hardly any audit is made of the use of confidential and intelligence funds. I see these funds as the principal source of the President’s generosity to be used as he pleases, considering that the budget department said the funds will be used “mainly for President Rodrigo Duterte’s war against drugs, criminality, and corruption.”