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SC orders Sara to answer question on secret funds

MANILA, Philippines — The Supreme Court (SC) has ordered Vice President Sara Duterte, Executive Secretary Lucas Bersamin and Budget Secretary Amenah Pangandaman to answer a petition challenging the constitutionality of the transfer of P125 million in confidential funds to the Office of the Vice President (OVP) in November 2022.

In a two-page notice made public yesterday, the SC gave the three officials 10 days to give their respective comments on the petition.

“Acting on the petition for certiorari, the court resolved, without giving due course to the petition, to require the respondents to comment thereon within 10 days from notice hereof,” the notice read.

Concerns over the use of confidential funds were prompted after the Commission on Audit reported that the OVP spent P125 million in just 11 days.

The petitioners, led by former Commission on Elections chairman Christian Monsod, challenged the constitutionality of the transfer of P125 million in confidential funds from the Office of the President to the OVP.

Joining Monsod in the petition are former finance undersecretary Maria Cielo Magno, former election commissioner Augusto Lagman, lawyer Ibarra Gutierrez, who served as spokesperson of former vice president Leni Robredo, and seven others.

Aside from questioning the transfer, they also asked the high court to order the OVP to return the entire amount to the government treasury.

In their 49-page petition, they argued that the decision of the Department of Budget and Management to release P125 million to serve as a confidential fund of the OVP was a “clear usurpation” of the legislative power of Congress.

This transfer is an exercise of legislative power, they said, as they pointed out that only Congress decides on how the budget will be spent – including on what programs or activities the money will be used for.

The petitioners said the OVP’s budget in 2022 has items for the good governance program and traveling expenses, where the funds should have been transferred, but instead the contingency fund of the Office of the President was sent to the “inexistent” confidential fund of the OVP.

They noted that confidential funds do not fall under the funding