VICE PRESIDENT Sara Duterte has moved one step closer to allocating undisclosed funds within her Office of the Vice President (OVP) and the Department of Education’s (DepEd) budget, as their 2024 proposals have been approved by Congress, thanks to the support of her allies in both the House of Representatives and the Senate.

Simultaneously serving as the education secretary, Sara has put forward a combined sum of P650 million in undisclosed funds for the year 2024. This allocation consists of P500 million designated for the OVP, which constitutes more than a fifth of its proposed budget of P2.3 billion. Additionally, P150 million has been proposed for the DepEd, which is seeking a budget of P758.6 billion for the upcoming year.

Interestingly, her undisclosed funds surpass the total combined confidential and intelligence funds allocated to the Department of National Defense and the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency, which amount to P438.2 million. These are government entities with a genuine need for such funding.

In her attempt to rationalize this request, Sara explained to the Senate that the OVP utilizes confidential funds for various projects, including tree planting, feeding programs, disaster relief efforts, free transportation initiatives, and the distribution of free school supplies, among others. She also asserted that the DepEd requires confidential funds because “education is intertwined with national security.” However ludicrous these claims may have been, obtaining Congress’s approval for her undisclosed funds was a breeze for Sara, thanks to the “parliamentary courtesy” extended to her by lawmakers.

Sara’s justification for these funds is dubious. Claiming that such projects fall under the purview of confidential funds is a stretch at best. These initiatives are commendable and necessary but hardly constitute activities that warrant secrecy. Transparency in government spending is vital to ensure that taxpayers’ money is allocated efficiently and for the public’s benefit.

In the House of Representatives, deliberations on the OVP budget were abruptly halted after just 14 minutes, with no questions entertained. This occurred when Senior Deputy Majority Leader Sandro Marcos, the son of the President and Sara’s running mate, moved to end the hearing, citing the “longstanding tradition of giving the OVP parliamentary courtesy.”

Conversely, in the Senate deliberations, Sara faced extensive scrutiny when opposition senators raised concerns about the secret fund allocations in both the DepEd and OVP budgets.

In response, the Vice President attempted to appear frugal, stating that they “can do without the confidential funds.” However, audits reveal that Sara’s actions contradict her words. In 2022, she allocated P125 million in confidential funds purportedly for constructing new OVP satellite offices, despite no provision for such expenditures in the budget for that year. Sara later claimed to have requested this allocation from her running mate, President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos, an action considered unconstitutional by budget experts and lawmakers.

Ultimately, tradition once again favored Sara when Senators Bong Revilla and Jinggoy Estrada, both charged in 2014 with plunder cases related to alleged misuse of tens of millions of pork barrel funds, moved to end the OVP budget hearing out of “respect and courtesy” to the Vice President.

This antiquated and illogical “tradition” highlights how Congress has relinquished its power to control the purse strings and its role as a check-and-balance institution against the executive branch. It has effectively facilitated Sara’s access to secret funds, money that requires no accountability due to its confidential nature, even though her mandates do not entail surveillance activities.

Sara, in her role as the daughter of a former president, emulated his strategy of implicating communist rebels in every issue and using them as scapegoats to deflect from her own shortcomings, especially in her capacity as education secretary. What ought to be ashamed of themselves are the members of Congress, who fell for Sara’s feeble justifications and vague assertions about instilling patriotism in the youth as a defense for questionable funds.

The presence of these undisclosed funds within the DepEd budget underscores Sara’s inherent fascist inclination—a trait that seems to be ingrained in her family’s legacy. She persistently intertwines national security matters with genuine educational challenges. It is high time that Sara relinquishes her aspiration and illusion of acting as the defense secretary while fulfilling her role at the DepEd.

As the head of the education department, Sara must take responsibility for her position and concentrate on addressing the country’s escalating educational crisis, instead of interfering in the responsibilities of other government offices. If she had only focused her attention on the department she leads, Sara would have found better applications for the allocated P150 million. These funds could have been put to use in constructing classrooms, addressing the shortage of 165,000, repairing around 300,000 dilapidated school buildings, or hiring 89,000 teachers to improve the teacher-to-student ratio in schools.

The low literacy rate among Filipino learners, dismal proficiency levels in international assessments, and poor reading comprehension skills—further exacerbated by more than two years of distance learning—highlight that concerns related to surveillance and communist recruitment should be of the lowest priority in Sara’s agenda.

As the remaining budget reviews unfold, it is crucial for Congress to stand firm as an independent branch tasked with holding other branches of government accountable and safeguarding the Philippines’ financial resources from the grasp of corruption. Failure to do so would allow Sara to once again relish an undeserved and substantial portion of the budgetary pie.

Her ability to secure such vast confidential funds with relative ease due to her political influence is a cause for concern. In a country that grapples with corruption at various levels of government, the allocation of excessive confidential funds without clear justifications only exacerbates the problem. It undermines the trust of the Filipino people and perpetuates a culture of secrecy that can be exploited for personal gain.


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