A reality check for Duterte
Hours after a small committee of the House of Representatives decided last week to strip Vice President Sara Duterte of P650 million in confidential funds she had sought for her office and the Department of Education, her father went on a rant castigating Congress as a “most rotten institution” and threatening to kill a leader of the House minority.
Acting like his daughter’s spokesperson, former president Rodrigo Duterte said the Vice President’s confidential funds would have been used to end the communist insurgency and to revive the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps “so we can be prepared in case of a war.”
“But, the first target … would be you, France, I want to kill you all, communists,” he said, referring to ACT Teachers Rep. France Castro, a deputy minority leader of the House who has been a relentless critic of the Vice President’s confidential funds.
Duterte also went after House Speaker Martin Romualdez, whom he accused of orchestrating the moves against the Vice President because he would supposedly run for President in 2028. Does Duterte see President Marcos’ cousin as a potential rival in his daughter’s rumored presidential run?
The former president might have gotten a dose of his own medicine for his shabby treatment of his vice president, Leni Robredo, during his term. Having come from an opposition party, Robredo was not given intelligence funds (and she didn’t ask for them either) nor a major Cabinet position that would have entitled her to more resources as a partner in governance.
In contrast, Vice President Sara Duterte has been given massive resources at her disposal: funds to put up satellite offices of the Office of the Vice President (OVP) to distribute aid (even if this overlaps the function of several government agencies), and to set up her own huge security group with access to presidential choppers, and the confidential funds.
House deliberations on the OVP’s budget also revealed that in the latter part of 2022, the Vice President had requested P250 million in confidential funds and was given P125 million by the Office of the President. Compounding the perceived illegality of this Malacañang move was the Commission on Audit’s report that the OVP had spent the P125 million in just 11 days.
This year, Duterte was allocated P500 million in confidential funds as Vice President and P150 million as education secretary, which she has refused to account for, merely describing her critics as “enemies of the people.”
Her stubborn stance backfired. Public opinion crystallized around the outrageous fact that her 2024 confidential funds of P650 million was a gazillion times higher than the P118.7 million in similar funds that the Philippine Coast Guard—outnumbered and outgunned by China in the West Philippine Sea—had received in 17 years!
Such discrepancy and skewed priorities culminated in the decision of the House leadership to realign P1.23 billion in confidential funds, including Sara Duterte’s P650 million, to other agencies mandated with intelligence and surveillance functions. In a show of unity, the leaders of the various political parties comprising the House majority coalition, issued two joint statements in recent days—one in support of the confidential funds’ realignment, and another calling out Rodrigo Duterte for threatening a member of the House.
Duterte, the father, sees politics in the unusual House decision to forego the funds for President Marcos’ teammate and political ally, instead of being an enlightened move to protect public funds from being misused. And he may be partially correct. The uneasy “UniTeam” coalition is bound to show cracks ahead of the midterm elections next year, and the presidential election in 2028.
As early as May this year, friction surfaced between Sara Duterte and Romualdez’s groups after former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo—Duterte’s ally—was demoted to deputy speaker. This led to the VP’s resignation from the Lakas-CMD, Arroyo’s and Romualdez’s party, and to Duterte’s snide remark against the Speaker.
The clear winner in this political tussle is none other than ordinary taxpayers. As they should be. But the House should go further and institutionalize its newfound courage into a law that would henceforth bar the allocation of confidential funds to agencies that do not have intelligence-gathering functions.
The Dutertes may have been used to the reign of terror in Davao, where patriarch and children have ruled for decades, but matters of transparency and accountability for taxpayer money should rightfully be raised as a public concern on a national scale.
With the House now asked to probe the billions in confidential funds during the respective terms of Rodrigo and Sara Duterte as Davao City mayor, will the administration also rethink its position on not allowing the International Criminal Court to investigate and prosecute the former president for crimes against humanity over thousands of extrajudicial killings during his brutal drug war?