Columns

Offline: Robbery in broad daylight in OP and the OVP

The confidential and intelligence funds that the Office of the President and the Office of the Vice President have lusted for are now theirs, thanks in large part to a Congress that is more than willing to give Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and Sara Duterte anything they want.

Because such funds are not subject to review by the Commission on Audit, they are effectively the single best source of graft and corruption by the country’s two highest officials.

They can, if they so desire, have the entire sums granted them by their fawning subjects in both the House of Representatives and the Senate deposited directly to their personal accounts and doled out as they see fit without question.

Last week, the Senate – which used to have a better reputation than the House where honesty and probity is concerned – went overboard by releasing rules to prevent disclosure of details on how Marcos and Duterte use their funds.

Here’s the huge catch. “Senators face suspension and expulsion for any violation.”

This is all on Senate President Migz Zubiri, who clearly wants to muzzle the two-member minority in Senators Koko Pimentel and Riza Hontiveros from doing their job.

Indeed, Zubiri and all the remaining senators in the majority should be ashamed of themselves.

Do they need to be reminded that those funds come from taxpayers’ hard earned money and that the government continues to borrow funds year in and year out just to stay operational?

This legalized waste of public funds goes beyond unforgiveable.

Duterte did pay some lip service to her sacred funds by telling a budget hearing that her office could live without the intelligence funds allowed her.

This was empty talk on her part since she was only referring to the intelligence funds set aside for the Education department, which she concurrently heads. The same funds for the OVP must remain intact because, well, because she says so. She wants those funds no matter what, and she must never, never be questioned on how she in her infinite wisdom chooses to spend it.

Any person of average intelligence – wrong choice of word? – who is also aware of how rampant graft and corruption is in the government can only come to one logical conclusion.

Those confidential, audit-exempt funds are a legalized form of thievery. They are not used for intelligence gathering, which is a job of the police and the armed forces, but at best are used to spy on real or imagined enemies of the president and/or the vice president.

Nothing but nothing stops either leader from also using the funds to pay off anyone in media to seen things their way. It can be in the form of a one-time payment or can be a regular deposit to their bank accounts. These payoffs can be justified as a form of intelligence gathering, should anyone dare ask how the funds are being spent.

As has been pointed out in social media, before Duterte the country’s two previous vice presidents had little, if any, funds allotted to their offices for “intelligence.” For Jejomar Binay, it was a few millions, and not for his entire six-year term.

For Leni Robredo, the grand total of intelligence funds she received during her six years as VP was zero. And yet who can question that Robredo was an exceptionally effective veep?

Throughout her term, she always received the highest scores from the Commission on Audit. What small funds she received from the national budget were always used judiciously.

One more thing that needs to be pointed out about VP Duterte is the fact that she needs 300 to 400 bodyguards, making her the most guarded leader anywhere in the world.

I doubt if the likes of Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping, or even the king of England has as many gun-toting bodyguards as her. Only North Korea’s Kim would have a bigger private army.

And that is precisely what Duterte has, a private army. It is one that protects her at all cost, and the contingent has been approved by the powers that be on the simple premise that she will be the next president after Marcos.

Heck, she may even have designs of taking over the presidency from Marcos Jr if the country’s food crisis gets any worse. She will simply offer herself as the savior of Filipino farmers and consumers.

But like Marcos Jr, she too has none of the necessary experience that the country needs at this time. Or at any time.

Like her father before her, Sara Duterte is only fit to be mayor of Davao City. Her father has turned the city into their personal fiefdom, much the same way that the Marcoses’ rule over Ilocos Norte was established decades ago, and not even a people’s revolution could put an end to that sad state.

More than a year after assuming the presidency, it has become clear that Marcos Jr is a weak leader who lets his Cabinet do all the work, while he seeks every opportunity to travel, courtesy of the people’s tax money.

Sara Duterte, on  the other hand, has made it clear that she is never to be questioned, and any “request” she makes, especially in terms of budget allocation, is never to be denied.

It was quite sickening to witness the spectacle of the House practically kneeling before her during the budget hearings, questioning none of the items in her submitted budget.

The House cited some non-existent law or rule about respecting her position as the reason for not poring over her bloated budget, both as VP and as Education secretary.

The Senate, at least, was nominally better, with the two minority lawmakers being given the opportunity to question parts of her budget.

Still and all, both the president and the vice president of the republic have been given a free hand to amass a fortune without having to do it the old-fashioned way – through good, old fashioned graft and corruption practiced via kickbacks from government contracts.

Congress has set the worst precedent possible, as all future presidents and vice presidents will have tons of money at their disposal, and charge it all to their confidential intelligence funds.

Only another abrupt change in government will ever have the chance to see how the hundreds of millions allotted to Marcos and Duterte were really spent. And no one will be surprised to find out that those precious funds somehow found their way to foreign bank accounts.

Grand larceny as practiced in the Philippines has never been grander.