By Ellson Quismorio
As far as Davao City 3rd district Rep. Isidro Ungab is concerned, the Office of the President’s (OP) request for confidential and intelligence funds amounting to P4.5 billion is justified.
This, despite the figure being more than half of the office’s entire budget allocation of P8.2 billion for the year 2020.
“[President Rodrigo Duterte] is the head of the National Security Council. We have a President who is hands-on on matters related to peace and security. And this I can say because he himself is a man who personally goes to the field,” Ungab, Committee on Appropriations chairman, said Monday afternoon as he defended the OP’s budget next year on the plenary floor.
“The President as commander-in-chief of the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) needs intelligence and confidential information in the performance of his duty on order to effectively, efficiently, and precisely plan all intensified efforts to suppress the threats against national security, terrorism, the campaign against illegal drugs, [and] insurgency,” Ungab said.
“We see a President who really visits the camps, who really visits the LGUs (local government units). In fact, we see him in action in the battlefields of Marawi. We think it’s only proper and fitting that we provide the amount requested by the OP in order for the OP to be able to deliver effectively and efficiently the needs of the country,” added the sponsor.
Interpellating the Mindanao lawmaker was Bayan Muna Party-List Rep. Fernando Gaite, who took the opportunity to question the math, as well as the logic, behind the confidential and intelligence budget being sought by the OP.
It should be noted that the budget briefing of the OP was quickly terminated at the House committee level earlier this month as a matter courtesy to the Executive, but this left zero chance for queries from congressmen.
“Unprecedented po ang paglaki ng pondong ito. Noong panahon ni Pangulong Benigno Aquino III, nasa badang P250 million each lamang. Ngayon ang pinag uusapan natin, bilyon. Ganyan kalaki. 400 percent ang increase ng pondo,” Gaite, a militant solon, pointed out.
(The fund increase is unprecedented. The annual fund was only P250 million during the time of President Benigno Aquino III. Now we’re talking billions. It’s that huge. The fund increased by 400 percent.)
Aquino is Duterte’s direct predecessor, having stepped down from Malacañang just three years ago.
“We disagree that the magnitude of the increase is unprecedented,” Ungab replied, “considering the confidential and intelligence requirements are based on the coordinated and integrated intelligence estimates of local and foreign situations for the formulation of the national policies of the President.”
The Appropriations panel chairman further claimed that there were now “complicated situations in the field that would require gargantuan tasks to prevent.”
“The terrorists for example in Mindanao have developed another kind of approach to terrorism in that, if we read the newspapers, there was a bombing in Jolo cathedral, there were attacks on the camps by suicide bombers and these are already trained by foreign terrorists,” Ungab said, referring to the extremist attacks the past few weeks.
“Aside from that, transnational crimes, drug menace…as the government plans ahead with its foresight and its proper military-police planning, the insidious forces are also planning another kind of approach. So the President should be updated, should be [kept] abreast, and I believe we should grant this request,” he said.
Ungab also said that President Duterte, who is a former longtime Davao City mayor, has a proven track record when it comes to maintaining peace and order.
“The success story of Davao’s peace and order campaign was resounding. In fact, the mayor was elected president because of his peace and order campaign.
“So I believe what he did in Davao is what he is doing now. We have a man who wants peace for his country, who wants people to live and sleep [peacefully]. Yun po ang style ni Presidente Duterte (That’s President Duterte’s style),” he explained.
But Gaite retorted that the OP isn’t supposed to be an intelligence-gathering body, thus it has no business to having such huge confidential and intelligence funds.
“Yung intelligence-gathering, may specialized agencies para dito. Ang OP na saklaw ang buong operasyon ng gobyerno ay hindi na dapat nagfofocus pa dito sa intelligence-gathering (There are specialized agencies for intelligence-gathering. The OP, which cover the entire operation of government, shouldn’t focus on intelligence-gathering).”
He said that unlike other forms of budget allocations, confidential and intelligence funds aren’t subject to audit, making them “worrisome.”