In hearing led by Bong Go, OP 2020 budget approved in
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CHECKS AND BALANCES? Senator Bong Go presides over the budget hearing of the Office of the President on September 11, 2019. Photo by Angie de Silva/Rappler

CHECKS AND BALANCES? Senator Bong Go presides over the budget hearing of the Office of the President on September 11, 2019. Photo by Angie de Silva/Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – The Office of the President (OP) Proper’s P8.2-billion budget for 2020 swiftly passed through a Senate panel during a hearing led by one of its former officials, Senator Bong Go.

The OP Proper’s budget hearing on Wednesday, September 11, lasted only 8 minutes with no questions from Go.

It’s practice in both the Senate and the House of Representatives to the OP budget at the committee level as a sign of inter-branch courtesy. But under the Duterte presidency, this tradition did not persist in the Senate.

In 2016 and 2018, Senate hearings were longer because opposition senator Antonio Trillanes IV had Palace officials about the proposed confidential and intelligence funds while Senator Loren Legarda wanted to know .

Trillanes and Legarda are no longer senators.

In the hearing led by Go, no such questions on confidential and intelligence funds were asked, even if the proposed amount for 2020 is the amounts in the previous 3 years.

Deputy Executive Secretary for Finance and Administration Rizalina Justol, in her presentation, said OP funds would go to President Rodrigo Duterte’s intensified campaign against illegal drugs, crime, and other security threats, as well as the .

The only question came from the only other senator in the room, Senator Francis Tolentino, also a former Malacañang official under the Duterte presidency. He had asked for updates on Malacañang’s plans for a building in the Palace grounds.

Go, a member of the powerful Senate finance committee, promised at the start of the meeting that he would “scrutinize” the OP’s budget even if he used to be part of the office.

“Sa mga media, baka sabihin nila walang magiging checks and balances dito sa pagdidinig na ito (To the media, they might say there is no checks and balances in this hearing). To all the media in attendance, I will follow the checks and balances in government,” he said to kick off the hearing.

Yet Go asked no questions from Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea and even acceded to the latter’s request that the OP Proper’s hearing be wrapped up so that the Presidential Management Staff (PMS) hearing could proceed.

Go only reminded OP officials to use public funds wisely, given Duterte’s supposed aversion to corruption.

Questions at plenary

Asked by Rappler why he posed no questions to his old office, Go said, Naintindihan ko naman eh (I understood the presentation).”

He also said he can still ask questions when the budget is tackled at the plenary.

He claimed he would ask about the P4.5-billion confidential and intelligence funds that make up more than half of the 2020 OP budget.

“That can be asked at the plenary. I will ask about that,” he said in Filipino.

Duterte’s men in the Senate

Only Duterte-allied senators showed up at the OP Proper hearing and PMS hearing.

After the OP Proper budget hearing, the PMS presented its proposed P654.6-million budget for 2020.

At this point, Go and Tolentino were joined by another Duterte-allied lawmaker, Senator Ronald dela Rosa.

The PMS budget hearing took a little longer, 13 minutes. Dela Rosa’s only intervention was to say he found nothing wrong with the budget.

Tolentino asked if the PMS planned to put up disaster resiliency-related operations in Mindanao, since he noticed they had such operations in Luzon and the Visayas.

Go said he would consider the additional P53 million the PMS wants for its 2020 budget.

PMS head Ferdinand Cui Jr said they needed this amount because the Cabinet wanted to fast-track certain development-related programs next year and PMS assistance would be required.

Go, Dela Rosa, and Tolentino are 3 neophyte senators who won in the 2019 elections largely because of their with Duterte.

Go was Duterte’s former special assistant and remains a constant companion. Dela Rosa was Duterte’s first police chief. Tolentino was Duterte’s political adviser. – Rappler.com