The dodgiest allocation of CIF

By Michael Henry Yusingco, LL.M

A couple of truths about confidential and intelligence funds (CIF) to start this piece. First, the legal framework regulating CIF is presently Joint Circular No. 2015-01 dated January 8, 2015 and collectively issued by the Department of Budget and Management, Department of the Interior and Local Government, Department of National Defense, Governance Commission for GOCC and the Commission on Audit.

JC No. 2015-01 provides for “the guidelines on the entitlement, release, use, reporting, and audit” of CIF. Hence, any talk about CIF must refer to this circular. Obviously, this is not a law, but for the moment, it has the effect of law as regards the allocation and accounting of CIF. Congress can, of course, supersede this circular by legislating a statute to govern CIF.

Second, as per the circular, confidential fund refers “to those expenses, pertaining/related to surveillance activities in civilian government agencies that are intended to support the mandate or operations of the agency.”

Therefore, confidential funds can only be spent for “surveillance activities” which are incidental to the fulfillment of the agency’s mandate. If surveillance is an integral part of the agency’s operations, then allocation for this activity must be part of its regular operational budget. Meaning, CIF is not applicable in this instance.

On the other hand, intelligence fund covers expenses “related to intelligence information gathering activities of uniformed and military personnel, and Intelligence Practitioners that have direct impact to national security.” So clearly, civilian offices like the Office of the Vice-President (OVP) are not entitled to intelligence funds.

Third, as per the circular, CIF cannot be used for the following:

  1. Salaries, wages, overtime, additional compensation, allowance or other fringe benefits of officials and employees who are employed by the government in whatever capacity or elected officials, except when authorized by law.
  2. Representation, consultancy fees or entertainment expenses; or,
  3. Construction or acquisition of buildings or housing structures.

Clearly, confidential funds cannot be used to pay for the construction of the OVP’s satellite offices. Neither can this be utilized to fund a campaign to make ROTC mandatory in our high schools. Indeed, the scope of how CIF can be used is very narrow. This is not a blank check for public officials to use indiscriminately.

Finally, CIF is still public funds. Therefore, their disposition is still subject to auditing and accounting. This is precisely the reason why JC No. 2015-01 exists, to wit: “The utilization of such funds is generally confidential and classified by nature, which requires not only strong internal controls in the release and utilization thereof, but also strict accounting and auditing rules to prevent mishandling or improper application of the funds.”

Therefore, public officials who have been allocated CIF cannot escape public scrutiny. This is not a secret slush fund for them to play around with. CIF is still taxpayers’ money. Hence, they cannot evade liability by hiding behind the notion of “national security”.

Notwithstanding the public clamor to rein in the allocation of CIF, an astounding 10.7 billion Php in CIF was given to the Office of the President (OP) in the proposed national budget for 2024. It can certainly be argued that this huge allotment is profoundly dubious given the fact that under the 1987 Constitution, the President has full control of the entire executive branch, which by the way, includes the AFP, PNP, NBI, PCG, and NICA. Thus, it is only right for taxpayers to question why the OP would need billions in CIF given that the President already has the entire national security apparatus at his disposal?

What are these incidental “surveillance activities” which the OP needs to conduct to justify such a staggering amount of CIF? What kind of “intel work” does the OP intend to do that is not already being done by law enforcement and national security agencies, which again, are already under the control of the President? The OP must not be given a pass in this matter, because public funds are involved.

Indeed, this brouhaha surrounding the allocation of CIF in the national budget should be a stern warning for the public. Public officials have always been fast and loose with public funds, but now it really feels like they have lost all shame when it comes to misusing taxpayers’ money. Lawmakers, it would seem, have truly abandoned their duty to safeguard the national coffers. This is hardly surprising given Congress is now dominated by political dynasties. And we can never expect dynastic politicians to put the national interest above their own.

The COA and media are doing their part to protect public funds. But the public, i.e., voters, need to do theirs as well. For starters, they should internalize these two constitutional prescriptions. First, “Public office is a public trust.” Always keep in mind that you are entrusting the country’s future to the person you are voting for. Would you entrust your children’s lives in the hands of a proven scoundrel or plunderer?

Second, “Public officers and employees must at all times be accountable to the people, serve them with utmost responsibility, integrity, loyalty, and efficiency, act with patriotism and justice, and lead modest lives.” Voters should apply these standards fervently during election time. Electing the same quality of politicians will simply not bring the changes that we so desperately need.