THE Makabayan bloc is protesting the immediate termination of the budget deliberations for the Offices of the President (OP) and Vice President (OVP) as they were not allowed to ask questions.

In a statement on Thursday, September 15, 2022, House Deputy Minority Leader Act Teachers Party-List Representative France Castro said the Congress is allowing the proposed budget of the OP and OVP go without any questions especially on “so much lump sums.”

The House Committee on Appropriations terminated the briefing on the OP budget two weeks ago and the OVP budget on Wednesday, September 14, without allowing lawmakers to ask questions and clarification, as a “sign of respect.”

Scrutiny of the proposed budgets of the OP and OVP is allowed during the plenary session.

Castro said the Congress should do away with the practice of servility to the two top government officials of the country and instead perform its mandate of guarding public funds.

She cited the unprecedented P500-million confidential funds under the OVP that "may pose as a national security risk as even the president is not privy on where and how it would be spent."

Castro expressed worry that such funds can be used for surveillance and finance a coup against the president because it is a highly secretive type of fund.

"Another issue is the burgeoning of operational funds supposedly for 'Good Governance Engagements and Social Service Projects' endangers civilian supremacy because such projects gives excessive entanglement of the military in civilian functions, civilian government," said Castro.

"As it is, the funds for Good Governance Entanglements MOOE increased from P523.785 million to P2.069 billion, while its Capital Outlay increased from 0 to P32.5 million...Since 2013, only in GAA 2021 (P6 million) and NEP 2023 (P32.5 million) that its CO was funded," she added.

The lawmakers said those matters needed to be clarified, noting that such funds can be better utilized if they are realigned to the Department of Education, Department of Health, or the Department of Social Welfare and Development.

"As it is, Congress is being reduced as a rubber stamp and a doormat of the executive," said Castro.

"We need to fulfill our sworn duty to scrutinize the budget because this is one of the main ways to detect abuse and under-utilization of the people's fund. By just letting the OP and OVP go without nary a question, then Congress is being remiss of this duty and damaging its own name," she added.

Assistant Minority Leader and Gabriela Party-List Representative Arlene Brosas said not letting them ask is a “clear disregard” for the Filipinos' right to scrutinize the budget of government offices.

“Karapatan natin na malaman saan nga ba mapupunta ang P2.292 billion na pondo na sinalaksak sa opisina ng bise president,” she said.

Brosas said her concern was the P500-million confidential fund of the OPV, noting that it is the first time that it will be given a black budget.

She said they should have been allowed to ask questions for the sake of transparency.

“We are talking about P500 million which could have been used to give cash aid to low-income families or education subsidies for struggling students,” she said.

“We are pouring millions of pesos worth of confidential funds to the OVP while many Filipinos struggle to make ends meet. Most Filipinos don’t even have enough money to travel and see their family amid rising public transport fares while some can easily fly home using a chopper. This is why we are very critical when it comes to these confidential funds which we have no idea where and how it is being used. The Filipino people deserve transparency. We deserve to know where our money is going,” Brosas added. (SunStar Philippines)