No questions asked: Congressmen hear OP, OVP budgets within minutes

MANILA, Philippines – The House committee on appropriations did not ask questions as the Office of the President (OP) and the Office of the Vice President (OVP) faced the panel to defend their respective proposed budget for 2017.

First up for budget deliberations on Tuesday, September 13, was the OVP, which is asking for a P428.618 million budget for next year.

None of the congressmen present asked questions of the OVP except for House Minority Leader Danilo Suarez, who inquired why Vice President Leni Robredo was not present.

Her chief of staff and OVP Undersecretary Philip Francisco Dy explained that the Vice President had a conflicting schedule in Pagadian on Tuesday morning.

After Suarez said the minority will no longer be asking questions, the hearing for the OVP’s budget ended after just 3 minutes.

Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea then represented the OP during the budget deliberations.

In his presentation, Medialdea said the OP is proposing a budget of P19.990 billion, which is around P17 billion more than the OP’s funds for the current year.

Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno previously explained that P15 billion of the OP budget will be used when the Philippines hosts the ASEAN Summit in 2017, which is also the organization’s 50th anniversary. A bulk of the said figure will be used for the car rentals of dignitaries.

A closer look at the OP budget also showed increases in expenses allotted for intelligence and “confidential” activities.

President Rodrigo Duterte, who is waging a war on crime and drugs, wants P1.25 billion for Confidential Expenses, up from P250 million in 2016.

Duterte also wants P2.114 billion for his Intelligence Expenses, higher than the P78.946 million set aside for it this year.

The President had said he will not use the funds for personal gain.

“Wala naman ako hiningi na sabihin mo ibulsa ko (I am not asking for anything I will pocket). All of these things will be used for, lalo na sa (especially the) intelligence fund,” Duterte said on August 25.

Again, no one from among the representatives had any inquiries for Medialdea after his presentation, marking the end of the hearing after 10 minutes.

Albay 1st District Representative Edcel Lagman, however, manifested that he has several inquiries about the OP budget, but he would reserve his questions during the House plenary deliberations.

“What we did was to follow tradition that interpellations are not asked during the budget presentation of the Office of the President and the Office of the Vice President,” explained Lagman, who is part of the so-called “Legitimate 8” minority bloc in the House.

“But that rule or tradition does not extend to the plenary session where we could ask questions for interpellations,” he added.

The House committee on appropriations continues its budget hearings on other government offices this week.

No schedule has been announced yet for the House plenary deliberations of the P3.35-trillion proposed budget  for 2017. – with a report from Pia Ranada/Rappler.com

Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda writes about politics and women’s rights for Rappler. She covers the House of Representatives and the Office of the Vice President. Got tips? Send her an email at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or shoot her a tweet @maracepeda.

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