The Department of Agriculture (DA) does not need P50 million confidential funds to combat smuggling as there are law enforcement agencies tasked to do it, two senators said Thursday.
Senators Cynthia Villar and Raffy Tulfo made the remark after they found out during the Senate finance committee hearing on DA’s proposed 2024 budget that the agency was given millions of confidential funds under the National Expenditure’s Program (NEP).
According to Agriculture Senior Undersecretary Domingo Panganiban, the P50 million confidential funds will be “solely for the enforcement and smuggling.”
But Tulfo questioned the allocation saying smuggling should be addressed by the Bureau of Customs which also has confidential funds in their agency.
“I-surrender ninyo na lang po at ibigay ninyo na lang po sa ibang mga agency na nangangailangan tulad ng Coast Guard. Siguro kailangan natin dahil palaging nagkakaproblema tayo sa West Philippine Sea,” he said.
(Just surrender it and give it to agencies that need confidential funds like the Coast Guard especially now with the problems in the West Philippine Sea.)
Villar, chairperson of the Senate agriculture committee, backed Tulfo’s suggestion and pointed out that it is not the DA’s mandate to enforce laws against smuggling.
“The enforcement agency against smuggler and cartel…would be coming from the law enforcement agency, not DA,” she said.
Addressing the senators’ questions, Panganiban said they do not know why they were given such funds while Agriculture Assistant Secretary for Inspectorate and Enforcement James Layug said the P50 million was given for their surveillance operations.
“Nu’ng lumabas ‘yung NEP, sir, they allocated P50 million confidential funds to be dedicated sana sa surveillance operation for anti-agricultural smuggling operations, sir,” Layug said.
(When the NEP was released, they allocated P50 million confidential funds to be dedicated to our surveillance operation for anti-agricultural smuggling operations.)
Since the confidential funds were allocated and not requested, Tulfo said the DA should just return it.
“Kung binigay sa inyo, hindi ninyo pala kailangan, e di isauli ninyo na lang… And’yan naman po ‘yung PNP. And’yan naman po ‘yung Customs,” Tulfo said.
(If the budget was given to you but you don’t need it for your operations, then it’s better to just surrender it. The PNP and the Customs are there to combat smuggling.)
Tulfo also suggested reallocating the P50 million for the DA’s program for rice production.
Villar, who will sponsor the DA’s budget in the Senate plenary, said they will make the realignments.
“Paki-cancel na lang ano. ‘Wag na kayo magka-confidential funds d’yan. Pandagdag pa kayo. P50 million is P50 million. That’s a lot of money,” Tulfo said.
(Just cancel it. DA should not have confidential funds. P50 million is P50 million. That’s a lot of money.)
At the latter part of the hearing, Layug tried to convince the Senate panel to keep the P50 million as he explained that some of their agencies also have surveillance operations.
“About the confidential fund, the executive committee when we discussed the need—under your wisdom and guidance po—if the department can really use the confidential fund to also investigate, especially we have quarantine powers under the Food Safety Law and Price Act also and even in the Meat Code where we are mandated to conduct market surveillance and market inspection and also sa imports natin, nandyan tayo,” he said.
“May mga quarantine powers po ‘yung mga FSRA natin—Food Safety Regulation Agencies like [Bureau of Animal Industry, Bureau of Plant Industry, Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, and also National Meat Inspection Services] na will also need sana some support para mapatibay natin ‘yung surveillance operation and ma-reinforce po ‘yung mga accomplishment na nasimulan na rin ng DA,” he added.
(The DA also has quarantine powers specifically our Food Safety Regulation Agencies like BAI, BPI, BFAR, and also the NMIS which will also need some support to strengthen our surveillance operation and reinforce the accomplishment which the DA has already started.)
But Villar said she does not want to argue with Tulfo regarding the DA’s P50 million confidential funds and told Layug to be creative so they can deliver their mandate without such allocation.
“I just want to comment na if Senator Tulfo will make a big issue out of it, you just follow him in what you will do with the P50 million. I don’t want to be answering Senator Tulfo because of your P50 million allocation. You be creative and give him the benefit of having that P50 million realigned. I’m just being practical ‘di ba,” Villar said.
According to GMA Integrated News Research, 28 agencies have formally sought confidential funds in their 2024 budget, up from the 21 offices asking for such appropriation in 2016.
The Department of Budget and Management earlier said the total amount of confidential and intelligence funds across all agencies in the proposed 2024 budget is P10.14 billion, including P4.5 billion for the Office of the President (P2.25 billion confidential and P2.31 billion intelligence fund) and P500 million for the Office of the Vice President.
A Joint Circular No. 2015-01 of the Commission on Audit (COA) identified confidential funds as allocations that civilian government agencies use for surveillance activities supporting their mandate.
This is different from the intelligence fund (IF) which is being used by the uniformed, military personnel, and intelligence practitioners in sourcing information related to national security.—AOL, GMA Integrated News