Rappler reports examine DepEd, Coast Guard confidential, intel funds

CHEERS TO Rappler for its in-depth reports calling attention to the imbalanced allocation of confidential and intelligence funds (CIFs) among agencies. The accounts noted a glaring difference: the Department of Education’s (DepEd) confidential fund is PHP150 million, while the Philippine Coast Guard’s intelligence fund is only PHP10 million. The stories also cited experts’ criticism of CIFs in agencies not directly involved in security matters.

What’s the Story?

Jezreel Ines’ report on August 16 focused on the huge allocation of confidential funds to DepEd in its 2024 budget. Ines recalled in his report the DepEd statement in 2022, which highlighted “threats to the learning environment, safety, and security” to justify the agency’s need for confidential funds.

Ines also cited Vice President and concurrent DepEd Secretary Sara Duterte’s defense that “education is intertwined with national security,” but noting that Duterte refused to elaborate how the funds would be used, citing their “confidential” nature.

Meanwhile, Gemma Mendoza’s August 17 report looked at the increasing practice of allocating confidential funds to civilian agencies, pointing out that from 21 agencies in 2016, the number has risen to 28 in the proposed 2024 budget, DepEd included.

Mendoza’s report referred to official documents in making the important distinction between confidential and intelligence funds: the latter is used by the military, police and other uniformed personnel for national security purposes. Mendoza cited former Commission on Audit (COA) Chairperson Grace Pulido Tan who admitted in previous reports with Rappler that CIFs are not subject to the same rigorous auditing standards as other budgetary items, which require documentation and liquidation. Additionally, Mendoza said intelligence funds need to go through presidential scrutiny, while confidential funds only need to be approved by the concerned secretary.

What Rappler Got Right?

Questioning the wisdom of allocating huge amounts for DepEd’s CIF, Ines and Mendoza introduced more context with relevant information.

Ines noted that while the overall budget for DepEd has increased, its attached agencies on sports, childhood development, and culture and the arts faced budget cuts. These include the National Academy for Sports, Early Childhood Care and Development Council, and the National Museum of the Philippines.

Ines cited IBON Foundation executive director Sonny Africa’s challenge to Duterte to explain any legitimate need for CIFs in the education sector, as DepEd is not mandated to oversee national security.

Furthermore, Ines cited iLead executive director Zy-za Suzara who noted that the DepEd CIFs may normalize the practice for other civilian agencies. “Once it gets to the national expenditure program and then to the general appropriations act… that will be the pattern in the next administration(s),” Suzara said.

The report also cited the suggestion of the Alliance of Concerned Teachers to channel spending for quality education and address the country’s learning crisis, such as providing textbooks and laptops, subsidizing school uniforms, and building more classrooms.

Mendoza’s report picked up on Suzara’s concern, noting correctly that while civilian agencies like DepEd were receiving increased intelligent funds, those involved in territorial defense such as the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) received only PHP10 million in intelligence funds. Mendoza cited the PCG’s admission that this has been the case for the past 15 years. 

Mendoza also pointed to the imbalance of allocations among uniformed forces. The Philippine Army requested PHP440 million in intelligence funds, even with their claim that insurgent forces are decreasing. In 2016, the Army’s intel funds were only PHP64 million, but it has steadily increased since. Mendoza stressed in the report that the red-tagging of activists and journalists was rampant in the first years of former President Rodrigo Duterte’s term, and investigations revealed that military personnel from the Army’s Civil Military Operations ran social media pages accusing civilians of being communists and terrorists.

Why Is this Important?

The CIFs are subject to less scrutiny and transparency than other budget items, making them prone to corruption, misuse, or abuse. Without the obligation for full disclosure, public officials are not held accountable, and COA’s review is limited in its capacity to examine expenses. Media will not be able to track disbursements, which makes it urgent for the press to cut the CIFs to the quick and expose these as misplaced appropriations, reporting on dubious CIFs that take away from other budget items that support services and benefits for the people.

Early efforts to check CIFs in the 2023 budget were not successful. These were approved for both Marcos and Duterte. But media must not let up on this obligation. In fact, news organizations must provide reports on this issue in concert, building up on findings of journalists in other news organizations. 

This consolidated approach is the only way the media can exercise the power they hold as an institution and a community. When powers are resistant to correction, the press must stand firm on its constitutional duty to be a watchdog of power, alerting other forces to do the same, including civil society, business, and faith communities.

Perhaps, then, the elected representatives in Congress can be convinced to discuss and deliberate on how best to make the budget what it should be – an instrument central to good governance. The budget is a tool that distributes national wealth so those in greater need are given more, not less.