Senate panel swiftly approves ₱8.2-B budget for Duterte's office

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FILE PHOTO. The Senate Finance Sub-Committee approved on Wednesday the budget of the Office of the President in less than 10 minutes.

Metro Manila (CNN Phippines, September 11) — The Senate Finance Sub-Committee approved on Wednesday the budget of the Office of the President in less than 10 minutes.

Senator Bong Go, who used to serve as President Rodrigo Duterte's special aide, presided over the hearing that approved the proposed budget of ₱8.2 billion for 2020.

The amount is 21 percent higher than the current ₱6.7-billion outlay.

Deputy Executive Secretary Rizalino Justol said the increase will be for programs to combat terrorism, national crimes, armed conflict, and corruption, among others.

Based on the National Expenditure Program, the proposed confidential expenses and intelligence expenses of the Office of the President will increase by ₱1 billion each — from ₱1.25 billion in 2019 to ₱2.25 billion each in 2020.

The House Committee on Appropriations on September 6 also quickly approved the proposed budget of Duterte's office. This was questioned by detained Senator Leila de Lima. She said Congress must exercise its oversight function over the President's intelligence funds.

"Why is the House of Representatives allowing this so-called tradition of “courtesy” to prevail over public scrutiny? Considering how bloated the budget is, all the more the President has to justify this amount," she said in a statement.

She said the budget is prone to abuse that may be used against critics of the administration.

"The continuing attacks and fabricated accusations in the past three years against the opposition, myself included, casts a shadow of doubt on how the President would use this budget. For what it’s worth, intel funds under President Duterte has only resulted in rubbish matrices, with the sole purpose of harassing or persecuting critics and dissenters," she said.

Meanwhile, Senator Risa Hontiveros said Duterte must allocate his office's budget to address the dengue epidemic.

"With thousands of our countrymen and women sick or dead from dengue, public funds must be devoted more to addressing this health crisis. If the president’s intelligence funds are being doubled to allegedly 'secure the nation,' then why not use that money to secure Filipinos from this real threat which endangers the health and lives of our people?" she said in a statement.

The Department of Health said dengue cases nationwide have risen to 249,332 this year, including 1,021 deaths.

The proposed ₱4.1-trillion national budget for 2020 reached the plenary of the House of Representatives on Tuesday. The deliberations will last until September 20, according to the House Appropriations Committee schedule. House panel chairman Davao City Rep. Isidro Ungab said the House plans to meet its target of passing the General Appropriations Bill on third and final reading before Congress goes on break on October 4.