House party leaders standing up to the Dutertes

Times are changing; the political winds are changing, at least in the House of Representatives. And it’s 19 months to the midterm elections.

Leaders of the political parties in the legislative chamber, most of whom were allies of former president Rodrigo Duterte and his daughter, Vice President Sara Duterte, are now standing up to what many perceive to be abuses in word and in deed.

First, the party leaders initiated the move to strip the Office of the Vice President (OVP) and the Department of Education (DepEd), along with three other civilian agencies, of their confidential and intelligence funds and reallocate these to agencies primarily tasked with surveillance or intelligence-gathering.

On Saturday, they issued a statement calling out the former president and asking him to “avoid making threats or insinuating harm against any member of the House or the institution.”

The vice president had told senators during a budget hearing that the OVP “can live without confidential funds” and that she was leaving it up to Congress whether to grant it or not.

But in her public speeches outside Congress, VP Duterte has been making fun to the point of insulting Rep. France Castro, who has raised questions on how the OVP used its P500 million confidential funds for 2023 and the P125 million it secured from the Contingent Fund in 2022.

Following strong support for Castro and the Makabayan bloc’s questioning of the apparently anomalous spending by the OVP of the P125-million confidential funds for 11 days in December 2022, party leaders at the House agreed to remove the OVP’s proposed P500-million confidential funds and the DepEd’s P50 million for 2024.

The vice president detested the move. “Kung sino man ang kumukontra sa confidential funds ay kumukontra sa kapayapaan. Kung sino ang kumukontra sa kapayaan ay kalaban ng bayan,” she said before police officers of Caraga Region in a speech on Oct. 4.

A week later, her father had a lengthy ranting on his talk show on Sonshine Media Network International with Apollo Quiboloy, lambasting the House and Speaker Ferdinand Martin Romualdez, who, the older Duterte said, was “wallowing” in pork barrel funds.

In taking up the cudgels for his daughter, the elder Duterte uttered expletives as he dared the House leadership to subject themselves to rigid auditing by the Commission on Audit.

The party leaders at the House responded to the former president that the move to strip the OVP and DepEd, both headed by the younger Duterte, of confidential funds was not meant to insult the vice president.

“The decision to reallocate confidential funds to security agencies, especially in the context of escalating tensions with China, was taken in the best interest of national security. It is essential to understand that this decision was made for the benefit of the nation and not as a personal affront to any individual, including Vice President Sara Duterte-Carpio,” the party leaders said in a statement issued on Saturday.

In his talk show, the elder Duterte said his daughter had told him that she intended to use the confidential funds she was proposing to reactivate the Reserved Officers Training Course (ROTC) and implement a “soft launching” of the program. He said he advised the vice president to be straightforward in saying that the fund would be used to “target the communists in Congress.”

“The primary target of the intelligence funds should be France [Castro], the communists that I want to kill, tell that to her,” Duterte said.

There has been speculation that the party leaders’ statements adversarial to the Dutertes were politically motivated. Politically motivated or not, it was about time they sent a message to the Dutertes that their “bardagulan” days are over.The House party leaders should be consistent in its stand for decency and good governance, as they have recently shown, to convince the public that they’ve got the balls to stand up to the Dutertes.

The Makabayan bloc should pursue its plan to sue Duterte for threatening Castro and the other progressive lawmakers.

Sen. Ronald “Bato” de la Rosa should stop defending his former boss by saying that his “kill, kill, kill” threats were figures of speech that should not be taken seriously.

It’s about time for President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. to break his silence regarding insinuations of the alleged misspending by the vice president.

It would be best to lead by example by volunteering to reduce his P4.5-billion confidential and intelligence funds, as suggested by Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman. That would be in keeping with his avowed promise to “ensure that every peso and every centavo that the government spends in its programs and projects will be to the benefit of all Filipinos.”


The views in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of VERA Files.
This column also appeared in The Manila Times.