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The individual who adeptly interrogated the OVP’s classified finances.


During the House Representatives hearing on Vice-President Sara Duterte’s request for P500 million in confidential and intelligence funds (CIFs), I noticed Rep. Raoul Danniel A. Manuel wearing a vibrant shirt resembling tribal attire. The subtitles on the TV screen revealed him as the Kabataan Party-list representative, which brought to mind a past “youth representative” who had a heated argument with Comelec Commissioner Rowena Guanzon with disrespectful comments years ago. I immediately dismissed him as another arrogant impostor and paid no attention to his words.

I caught a glimpse of Rep. Manuel once more on the televised hearing on September 27. As I watched, I noticed he was once again dressed in the customary white barong. I was curious about what he had to say to be given the opportunity to speak at such a significant hearing, which was also attended by Vice-President Sara Duterte. I made the choice to tune in and listen.

VP Duterte had asked for P500 million in confidential funds. Confidential funds for the Office of the Vice President (OVP) under previous administrations were miniscule compared to what she is asking for in the 2023 budget. Her predecessor, VP Leni Robredo, did not ask for any.

st District Rep.

Prior to the discussions on the OVP budget, members of the House of Representatives pledged to transfer the OVP’s confidential and intelligence funds to the Philippine Coast Guard, which has been actively advocating for the rights of fishermen in the West Philippine Sea. However, Davao de Oro 1st District Representative.st

Maria Carmen Zamora, the District Representative, represented the OVP as the budget sponsor and defended the proposed budget for 2024 during the plenary debate on September 27th.

Representative Manuel argued that the Office of the Vice President’s request for confidential funds did not align with the House’s purpose of allocating funds to agencies with intelligence and surveillance abilities. He then proceeded to question Representative Zamora like a skilled prosecutor interrogating a defense witness in a court trial. Representative Zamora appeared visibly unsettled, and Vice President Duterte seemed irritated by the intense and sharp questioning.

The subsequent discussion exposed that the Commission on Audit had raised concerns about the spending and that the OVP had utilized its P125-million confidential fund in just 11 days in 2022. This concluded the debate, to the disadvantage of the OVP.

I was impressed by Representative Manuel’s excellent communication abilities, thorough understanding of relevant laws and regulations, familiarity with parliamentary procedures, extensive research of supporting data and information, critical thinking skills, ability to effectively respond to opposing arguments, and composed demeanor when faced with intense reactions during his questioning. He surpassed his older counterparts in the Makabayan bloc in the Lower House of Congress, including three-term Arlene Brosas and two-term France Castro. I assumed he must have graduated from a prestigious Law school with high academic achievements.

Although he is highly intelligent, he does not have a profession in law.

He attended the University of the Philippines High School in Iloilo and graduated as valedictorian in 2011. He then pursued a Bachelor of Science degree in applied mathematics at the University of the Philippines Visayas (UPV). He excelled academically and graduated summa cum laude, making him the first person in the university’s history to do so. In his final year at UPV, he was elected as the chairperson of the College of Arts and Sciences Student Council.

th national chairperson of the National Union of Students of the Philippines

Following his time as the national chairperson of the Katipunan ng mga Sangguniang Mag-aaral sa UP (KASAMA sa UP), which is the coalition of student councils in UP, he went on to serve as the 34th national chairperson of the National Union of Students of the Philippines during the academic year 2016-17 while pursuing his Master of Science degree in applied mathematics at UP Diliman.th

The UP Student Regent is the only student representative in the UP Board of Regents, which oversees the UP system. Afterward, he held the position of national president for the National Union of Students of the Philippines.

Members of the opposition have expressed reservations about the use of CIFs, comparing them to the controversial “pork barrel” system which was deemed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. CIFs refer to a lump sum of money allocated in the national budget for surveillance and intelligence operations. These funds are specifically designated for intelligence-gathering activities carried out by uniformed personnel and practitioners, with the aim of protecting national security.

Restricted funds may only be utilized for the following expenditures:

• Purchase of information necessary for the formulation and implementation of program, activities, and projects relevant to national security and peace and order;

• Hiring a transportation vehicle for confidential purposes. Expenses for rentals and upkeep of safehouses.

The procurement or leasing of necessary items and machinery for discreet operations that cannot be conducted through standard procedures without jeopardizing the confidentiality of the information gathering task at hand.

• Compensation for individuals who provide information;

• Uncovering and preventing illegal activities that pose a clear and present danger to agency personnel or property, or other facilities and resources under the agency protection, done in coordination with appropriate law enforcement agencies.

Funds for intelligence can only be allocated for the following expenditures:

Activities involving intelligence and counterintelligence that directly affect national security.

• Special projects and case operation plans involving covert or semi-covert psychological, internal security operation, and peace and order activities, as well as programs, projects, and campaigns against lawlessness and lawless elements involving intelligence activities.

Two days after the hearing, Vice President Duterte addressed allegations of misusing confidential funds in 2022 while emphasizing her commitment to following the law. This comes after the House of Representatives decided to review and realign her CIFs to agencies responsible for protecting the West Philippine Sea. She defended the use of the funds, stating that ensuring peace and order in the country should not be limited by time constraints. She stated, “It does not matter if it takes one day or one year to spend these funds; what truly matters is the safety and security of our people.” She added, “Anyone who opposes confidential funds is also opposing peace. And anyone who opposes peace is an enemy of the state.”

From her statement, I can gather that there are some concerns regarding the use of confidential and intelligence funds (CIFs) by the left-leaning Makabayan bloc. Representatives Manuel, Brosas, and Castro are not against the use of these funds, but they do object to the allocation of P650 million for the Office of the Vice-President and the Department of Education. They believe that these offices do not have a mandate to ensure the safety and security of the people. Additionally, there is some concern over the reported spending of P125 million in just 11 days, which came as a shock to them.

The role of the Vice-President is not explicitly stated in the Constitution. According to Article VII, Section 8, in situations such as the death, disability, removal, or resignation of the President, the Vice-President will assume the presidency for the remainder of the term. However, the Vice-President does not have authority over national security issues, therefore VP Duterte does not require CIFs.

She does not require CIFs in her role as Secretary of Education. Instead, she is responsible for advising the President on education-related issues and developing, executing, and coordinating policies, plans, programs, and projects for both formal and non-formal basic education.

 

Oscar P. Lagman, Jr. is a retired corporate executive, business consultant, and management professor. He has been a keen observer of Philippine politics since the late 1950s.