Romualdez defends House decision to strip Sara of confidential funds

Cristina Chi – Philstar.com

October 6, 2023 | 12:59pm

MANILA, Philippines — House Speaker Martin Romualdez has denied any form of politicking in the lower chamber’s decision to realign the confidential and intelligence funds sought by Vice President Sara Duterte’s two agencies.

Defending the House’s decision to transfer the P650 million in confidential and intelligence funds (CIFs) of the Office of the Vice President and the Department of Education combined, Romualdez said that he believes there is “too much speculation” over the move.

A political rift between the two ranking officials and UniTeam allies became apparent in May when Duterte resigned from Lakas-CMD following the demotion of Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo from senior deputy speaker to deputy speaker. Macapagal-Arroyo — former president and an elder at the ruling Lakas-CMD party — is regarded as Duterte’s political mentor.

At the time, Romualdez’s allies had rushed to declare their support for the leader due to rumors that an ouster was being planned from his position. 

Political tensions flared anew between the two ranking officials in June after Duterte made a wisecrack at a public event when she refused to mention the maiden name of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., which is Romualdez.

Romualdez insisted during the press conference that the removal of the CIFs from the budget had followed regular congressional deliberations. 

A “small committee” at the lower chamber is currently tasked with realigning CIFs in the proposed 2024 budget to agencies tasked with the defense of the West Philippine Sea.

“Under the circumstances, we felt that it would best be realigned to the agencies and to the departments and into the areas where we have just mentioned that are our priority,” Romualdez said.

“Borrowing the words of the Vice President, even she says that she could live without it and she would leave it to the sound discretion of the Congress for its proper disposition,” the House leader said.

In defending the realignment, Romualdez downplayed the perceived political rivalry between him and Duterte.

Romualdez said that it was merely “a natural progression” of the budget process. 

“We felt that it was the right thing to do,” Romualdez said.

Prior to ranking House lawmakers’ eleventh-hour decision to realign CIFs in the proposed 2024 budget, the Senate had already formed an oversight committee that analyzed how some 30 agencies spent their CIFs to determine if there is a need to realign the secret fund. 

This is contrary to what Romualdez said in the press conference where he alleged that it was “apparently the right decision, because even now the Senate is following suit.”

Romualdez stressed that the budget process is still ongoing and that the House remains open to hearing suggestions from the OVP. 

“But we feel that based on the earlier debates and hearings and all the questions that are brought about, we wanted to be very sensitive and to look at other ways on how to deploy these budget resources,” Romualdez said.

Rep. Stella Quimbo (Marikina City), senior vice chairperson of the House appropriations panel, emphasized that the House small committee is not singling out any specific government agency as it is currently applying “general principles as uniformly as possible.”

“We are rationalizing the CIFs. In other words, we are trying to correct the granting of CIFs to the best of our ability,” Quimbo added.


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