Senator Risa Hontiveros on Monday night, December 5, expressed her frustration at the way Congress failed to demonstrate its “power of the purse” with the full restoration of confidential and intelligence funds (CIFs) that have been slashed during the budget deliberations at the Senate.
Congress, Hontiveros said, missed an opportunity to assert its independence from President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and Vice President Sara Duterte’s administration.
“Today, the 19th Congress missed an opportunity to show its independence.. We failed to demonstrate that we do hold the power of the purse,” Hontiveros said in her manifestation after voting no during the ratification of the bicamercal conference committee’s report on the reconciled version of the 2023 budget.
Hontiveros is particular disappointed that the P150-million worth of CIF for the Department of Education (DepEd), which was slashed down to P30-million was fully restored in the bicameral level.
“It seems that the protection given to the public funds has been dulled byy granting full all the requests for confidential funds under the Marcos-Duterte administration,” Hontiveros pointed out.
“And worse, the legislature agreed to remove provisions that require congressional reporting of the utilization plan and disbursement of the CIFs,” she noted.
In the absence of such provisions, in spite of the creation of a Select Oversight Committee on Confidential and Intelligence Funds, Hontiveros said she wonders how Congress can be expected to exercise checks and balances in government, and ensure accountability and transparency.
“Nakakapanghinayang po na sa unang budget ng administrasyon (It’s sad that under the first budget of this administration), Congress has shown its malleability to the whims of the administration and has squandered an opportunity offered by the Senate for more transparency and accountability and less opportunities for corruption,” she said.
“Effectively, Congress has abdicated its power of the purse to holders of civilian offices and Departments in the executive, setting a precedent for improper budget requests leading up to the elections in 2028,” the Senate Deputy Minority Leader lamented.
Senator Sonny Angara, chairman of the Senate Committee on Finance, assured that next year’s budget was a product of thorough discussion and careful scrutiny.
In his sponsorship speech on the measure, Angara said the bicameral panel stood by the Constitution’s mandate that education should be the government’s spending priority.
That is why under the reconciled version of the budget, Angara said Congress increased the budget of the education sector, particularly the DepEd, Commission on Higher Education (CHED) and Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA).
Angara allayed fears that the 2023 General Appropriations Bill (GAB) was railroaded.
Sen. Grace Poe, for her part, acknowledged Angara’s efforts to defend the Senate’s version of the 2023 budget.
“I would just like to put on record my thanks and admiration to the chairman of the Committee on Finance for hurdling so many issues,” Poe said during the plenary session.
“I know in his heart what he really wanted and he fought for the best interest of the Senate, the Senate position. Well, fortunately and unfortunately, there are two bodies to consider—it is not just the Senate alone,” she said.
“But for the most part, I thank him for accepting our amendments that are really pro-people, especially my concern for the drivers and also for transportation,” Poe said.