November 26, 2022

The ombudsman’s office was asked on Tuesday to become the “model agency” in terms of transparency in the use of its confidential funds.

Senate Minority Leader Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III made the call during continued Senate plenary deliberations on the proposed 2023 state budget.

According to Pimentel, the anti-graft office has been receiving these confidential funds since 2018.

For 2023, the Ombudsman has proposed an amount of P51.468 million for its confidential funds.

“If the confidential funds are ever withheld for the Ombudsman in the 2023 budget, perhaps the appeal of this representation would be if the Ombudsman’s office could be the model agency in reporting and handling said confidential funds,” Pimentel said in mixed English and Filipino.

“Kasi kung talang hindi natin maiwasan, talagang hindi natin ma-zero ang confidential funds throughout the government bureaucracy, at least there is a modeling agency that does the [Commission on Audit] and then being able to say to the other agencies with confidential funds: ‘This is the way to be more transparent in reporting and using the confidential funds’,” he added.

Sen. Sonny Angara, chair of the Senate Finance Committee, said the ombudsman would let the Senate decide whether to approve the confidential funds requested.

“The Ombudsman, Justice [Samuel] Martires whispered to me that it’s up to us… which level we want to set it at,” Angara said.

In pursuing his point, Pimentel mentioned the case of the Energy Regulatory Commission, which he said had already agreed to refocus its confidentiality during budget deliberations at the Senate Finance Subcommittee level.

“A good example is the ERC. Mayroon ding confidential fund, 15 million pesos, but at subcommittee level winaive niya na kaagad,” Pimentel said.

He said the 15 million pesetas had been reallocated to some other budget items within the ERC.

“Si ERC pwedeng ma-cite is a good example of pursuing our call for transparency and more breakdown of household entries,” he said.

The Senate has approved the proposed budget of 4.7 billion pesetas for the Plenary Ombudsman’s Office. — RSJ, GMA Integrated News