SC orders VP Sara to answer question on confidential funds

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MANILA — The Supreme Court (SC) has ordered Vice President Sara Duterte, Executive Secretary Lucas Bersamin and Budget Secretary Amenah Pangandaman to answer a petition challenging the constitutionality of the transfer of P125 million in confidential funds to the Office of the Vice President (OVP) in November 2022.

In a two-page notice made public yesterday, the SC gave the three officials 10 days to give their respective comments on the petition.

“Acting on the petition for certiorari, the court resolved, without giving due course to the petition, to require the respondents to comment thereon within 10 days from notice hereof,” the notice read.

Concerns over the use of confidential funds were prompted after the Commission on Audit reported that the OVP spent P125 million in just 11 days.

The petitioners, led by former Commission on Elections chairman Christian Monsod, challenged the constitutionality of the transfer of P125 million in confidential funds from the Office of the President to the OVP.

Joining Monsod in the petition are former finance undersecretary Maria Cielo Magno, former election commissioner Augusto Lagman, lawyer Ibarra Gutierrez, who served as spokesperson of former vice president Leni Robredo, and seven others.

Aside from questioning the transfer, they also asked the high court to order the OVP to return the entire amount to the government treasury.

In their 49-page petition, they argued that the decision of the Department of Budget and Management to release P125 million to serve as a confidential fund of the OVP was a “clear usurpation” of the legislative power of Congress.

This transfer is an exercise of legislative power, they said, as they pointed out that only Congress decides on how the budget will be spent – including on what programs or activities the money will be used for.

The petitioners said the OVP’s budget in 2022 has items for the good governance program and traveling expenses, where the funds should have been transferred, but instead the contingency fund of the Office of the President was sent to the “inexistent” confidential fund of the OVP.

They noted that confidential funds do not fall under the funding allowed by the contingent fund.

They stressed that the Constitution prohibits the transfer of appropriations, except for the augmentation of savings, which belongs to a certain class of people among whom is the President.

Another petition had been filed challenging the constitutionality of the allocation, release and disbursement of confidential funds to government departments and agencies.

This petition asked the high court to declare as null and void Joint Circular No. 2015-01 and Executive Order No. 2, s. 2016 which provides the guidelines in the disbursement and liquidation of confidential funds, where confidential funds are exempted from the people’s right of access to information.

The petitioners include retired SC associate justice Antonio Carpio, former senator Richard Gordon, lawyer Howard Calleja and several members of the 1975 Law Class of the University of the Philippines.

Aside from Duterte, Bersamin and Pangandaman, the Senate led by President Juan Miguel Zubiri, the House of Representatives led by Speaker Martin Romualdez and some officials of the Departments of Education, of Budget and Management and of the Interior and Local Government were named respondents.

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