THE Senate has started to train its sight on the use of intelligence and confidential funds by various agencies of the national government. Senate President Vicente Sotto III has directed the revival of a special oversight panel to review how the government is using its intelligence and confidential funds.
This after the senators unanimously adopted Resolution No. 310, which reconstitutes the “Select Oversight Committee on Intelligence and Confidential Funds, Programs and Activities.” There had been a similar oversight committee in the Senate from the 10th to 17th Congress.
Introduced by Sotto and Sen. Panfilo Lacson, the measure grants the Senate the authority and the duty to oversee government offices’ operations such as coming up with “accurate and timely intelligence information to better deal with the threats to national security, including the maintenance of peace and order, thereby providing a safe environment and secure place of abode to the people.”
Under the 2020 national budget, more than P9.6 billion was allocated as intelligence and confidential funds to implement programs and activities of the government relative to national defense, peace and order, and national security, it was noted by the resolution.
Sotto designated Senators Francis Tolentino, Nancy Binay, Ronald dela Rosa, Christopher Go, Riza Hontiveros and Francis Pangilinan as members of the oversight committee, and Lacson as chairman.
The Senate President stressed that it is “incumbent upon the Senate to reactivate the Select Oversight Committee on Intelligence and Confidential Funds, Programs and Activities in the 18th Congress to continue exercising its oversight functions over the use, disbursement, and expenditures of confidential and intelligence funds granted to certain government agencies; and to provide vigilant legislative oversight over the conduct of aforesaid intelligence activities, sources, methods, and programs.”
It is interesting to note that the Senate was only passively reactive when it took this important step on intelligence funds monitoring. This happened because Undersecretary Eliseo Rio Jr. of the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) offered to resign over the issue of the hazy use or allocation of some P300 million in intelligence funds of the Department last year. This matter has put Rio, a former DICT secretary, in direct collision with the current secretary, former senator Gregorio Honasan, who the senators and the public think has some explaining to do on this question.
Undersecretary Rio had publicly aired his desire to talk with President Duterte about the problem of P300 million intelligence funds of the DICT and perhaps he got this appointment. The media was just informed that Rio and Honasan had reconciled their differences on the issue, even as Honasan himself assured his former colleagues in the Senate that he will attend any public hearing on intelligence funds.
The issue of the questioned intel funds in the DICT is not a private matter, and thus it cannot end with just Honasan and Rio seeing eye to eye. The people have the right to know, and the Senate is a good venue to inform the nation about issues concerning intelligence funds.
And while are at it, why not include local government units — provinces, cities and municipalities — whose officials also wallow in audit-free intelligence funds without proper accountability to the people?