National security a valid reason behind Duterte’s veto –Sotto

Published December 29, 2020, 7:58 PM

by Vanne Elaine Terrazola

Senate President Vicente Sotto III said Tuesday that he understands President Duterte’s refusal to report to Congress how intelligence funds are being spent.

Sen. Vicente Sotto III (Senate of the Philippines / MANILA BULLETIN)

“I may agree or disagree, but if it involves national security, then I can see his point,” Sotto said in message to reporters.

“The security cluster insists that there are members of Congress who are sympathizers or allegedly connected to the CPP/NPA (Communist Party of the Philippines-New Peoples’ Army) . [President Duterte] probably thinks it’s best not to telegraph the Executive’s intel actions,” he added.

Duterte said in his veto message dated Monday, December 28, that he rejected the provision in the 2021 General Appropriations Act which requires the submission of quarterly reports to the Senate President and the House Speaker on the use of intelligence funds.

The President maintained that intelligence funds involve projects related to national security “are deemed confidential or classified information.” 

“Hence, all activities involving intelligence gathering that have a direct impact on national security and public safety shall be directly reported to me.  Accordingly, reports on the utilization of the intelligence funds shall be directly submitted to my Office,” Duterte said.

Lawmakers earlier questioned the huge allocation for intelligence and confidential funds under the 2021 national budget as they stressed the need for more funds for COVID-19 response. They also called for transparency in the executive department’s use of such funds.

In February this year, the Senate adopted a resolution reviving the “Select Oversight Committee on Intelligence and Confidential Funds, Programs and Activities” to look into the disbursement of intelligence and confidential funds given to government agencies.

This was pushed by Sotto and Senator Panfilo Lacson, who pointed out the importance of gathering intel information following “recent threats to the country’s national security, including disturbance to peace and order by lawless elements.”

Intelligence and confidential funds are not subject to the regular auditing rules and procedures of the Commission on Audit (COA). The two senators said then that this fact emphasizes the need for the Senate to oversee the efficiency of concerned government agencies in producing accurate and timely intelligence information.