Marcos and Romualdez’s hypocritical stance on prudent spending

“Be assured that it is the policy of this administration 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.”

Believe it or not, that was President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. speaking.

He made the promise on Dec. 7, 2022, just six days before his office released P221.4 million from his contingent fund to the Office of the Vice President. The amount includes the highly questionable P125 million confidential funds.

The occasion then was the presentation by the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) of Philippine banknotes bearing the president’s signature and the new coin series with the BSP logo.

Now that Vice President Sara Duterte has been drawing flak after records from the Commission on Audit showed that the OVP spent the P125 million confidential fund in the last 11 days of 2022, Marcos has chosen to keep quiet.

Also silent on the issue is Marcos’ first cousin, Speaker Ferdinand Martin Romualdez, who committed last Aug. 10 that “with utmost diligence,” the House of Representatives “will ensure that every centavo of the proposed P5.768 trillion budget will be judiciously spent.”

Romualdez made a similar vow in August 2022 when the House received Malacañang’s proposed national government budget of P5.268 trillion for 2023. He then assured that “every centavo of the national budget will be spent wisely to implement programs that would save lives, protect communities, and make the economy strong and more agile.”

“The budget,” he said, “will be a product of the entire House of Representatives, where the majority will listen to the minority’s concerns” because “this budget basically represents the hope of the future and the agenda for prosperity in the country this coming 2023.”

But questions have earlier been raised on the president’s frequent overseas trips and his administration’s penchant for logos with mediocre symbolism as part of its rebranding program. The whopping amount spent on these doesn’t indicate prudent spending of public money.

During a briefing of the country’s economic managers on the proposed 2024 budget to the House last August, Romualdez said, “The budget deliberations are a meticulous exercise that requires accuracy, objectivity, and most of all, transparency.”

But wasn’t it Ilocos Norte Rep. Sandro Marcos, senior deputy majority leader and the eldest son of the president, who quickly moved to terminate deliberations on the OVP’s proposed 2024 budget even before opposition congressmen could ask questions from Duterte?

When opposition lawmakers raised questions on the manner of spending by the country’s top officials, they were called names and vilified in public events elsewhere.

Administration allies in the House appropriations committee lost no time approving the younger Marcos’ motion and even had the microphone of the Makabayan bloc lawmakers cut off. The haste by which the OVP’s budget passed the committee level contradicts Marcos’ and Romualdez’s assurances that every peso in the national government budget will be spent wisely.

In another instance, Ombudsman Samuel Martirez, in responding to the inquiries of Rep. France Castro of the ACT Teachers party-list, even sounded condescending and sarcastic, which is not at all welcoming for a meticulous exercise of the lawmaker’s job to scrutinize the spending of the budget.

The ombudsman should be the country’s chief graft-buster but it seems he has not been up to the job. He even asked Congress to remove a provision in the budget law that requires COA to publish its annual audit reports, which has been the source of news reports about irregular if not anomalous transactions in government agencies.

Why are Marcos and Romualdez quiet now on the questions of misspending raised against Duterte? Are they afraid that if they speak up in her defense, their own confidential intelligence and other lump sum funds will be subjected to similar meticulous scrutiny as the vice president’s confidential funds?

But other hands are entering the picture. Allies of Romualdez have been moving dubiously to reallocate the P650 million confidential funds that the OVP and the Department of Education (DepEd), both headed by Duterte, have been asking Congress to approve for 2024.

Romualdez dismissed insinuations that politics was behind the move. He and Duterte are being seen as potential rivals in the 2028 presidential race.

The rift between Duterte and Romualdez became apparent last May after the vice president resigned from Lakas-CMD following the demotion of Rep. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo from senior deputy speaker to deputy speaker. The former president is regarded as Duterte’s political mentor, who was responsible for the Marcos-Duterte team-up in the 2022 elections.

On May 21, Duterte posted a selfie on her Instagram account with the caption, “Sa imong ambisyon, do not be tambaloslos.” Many believed she was referring to Romualdez as “tambaloslos,” a mythical creature known for its big mouth and a penis the size of its own torso.

On one occasion in June, Duterte introduced the president and said in jest that she refused to mention his middle name, which is Romualdez.

Duterte, who said in 2019 that honesty should not be an election issue, has been resorting to personal attacks against opposition lawmakers questioning her spending of the confidential funds lodged in her office, particularly the P125 million transferred last December from the president’s contingent fund. She has described her critics in Congress as “a gang of individuals who had successfully mastered the art of fabricating lies.”

The vice president’s defenders have been responding in very general terms that the questionable funds were spent “in accordance with the law” but have yet to present convincing arguments and documents to prove prudent spending of public funds.

The current situation presents an opportunity for Marcos and Romualdez to prove to the public that they mean what they say. Make sure that “every centavo of the proposed P5.768 trillion budget will be judiciously spent.” Otherwise, they, too, must be held accountable for the apparent misspending, not only by the OVP but by their own offices as well. Stop fooling the people with rhetoric and hypocritical statements.


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.