OFFICIALS of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) led by Chairman Sixto Brillantes Jr. may be slapped with charges if it is proven that they abused their authority in receiving millions of pesos in intelligence funds.
According to Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC) Chairman Dante Jimenez, there is a need to audit the funds following the admission of Brillantes that he and his commissioners have been receiving such perks since 2011.
“All law enforcement agencies are automatically deputized by the Comelec. So what’s the intelligence fund for?” Jimenez asked.
“This is a blatant abuse of authority on the people’s money. We call on the COA [Commission on Audit] to audit the Comelec,” he added.
At the same time, Jimenez lauded former Comelec Commissioner Augusto “Gus” Lagman for speaking out about the controversial funds. The VACC chair maintained that the Comelec does not need confidential or intelligence funds (CIF).
For this year, it was learned that the Comelec has been given some P30 million CIF fund.
Malacañang however defended the Comelec on the issue of the controversial funds.
Following the General Appropriations Act, Palace deputy spokesman Abigail Valte said President Benigno Aquino 3rd himself approved the Comelec request to realign the poll body’s savings to intelligence funds for this year’s elections.
The approval was formally given in a memorandum issued on February 20, according to Valte.
“Ang kanila pong justification is [it’s] supposed to be utilized for intelligence and counter-intelligence activities and gathering of information relative to the activities of certain groups, individuals and technology experts suspected of conducting overt and covert operations to sabotage the results of the upcoming elections,” she said.
“However, at this point, allow me also to say that once the money is given to them, they are
expected to spend it within the metes and bounds that are provided for by the law. You can find that in Section 59 and 60 of the General Appropriations Act of 2013,” she added.
Valte explained that this is not only for Comelec but also for other agencies that are entitled to ask allocations for intelligence funds.
However, she said that they have to give justifications before the President gives his approval.
Budget Secretary Florencio Abad, meanwhile, vowed to look into the alleged intelligence funds given to the poll body’s chairman and the commissioners.
Abad also confirmed that the Comelec “sought the president’s approval to realign P30 million from their budget for [CIF] activities, with the need to monitor and counter activities that could compromise the 2013 polls.”
“It’s part of their mandate to supervise the conduct of the elections. The approval was granted February 20. It is allowed under the law. More importantly, it is subject to the usual accountability rules,” the Budget chief explained.
Approved by Aquino
Brillantes on Thursday maintained that the intelligence budget was documented and everything is aboveboard.
“May clearance from Malacañang . . . nandyan lahat ng supporting documents,” the poll chief said.
Brillantes questioned Lagman’s motive in revealing the release of the money to Comelec officials. He also denied the latter’s claim that someone asked him to sign a document as a way to liquidate the money.
“Baka nagtataas lang sya ng bangko, mukhang sya nagpapalabas na sya lang ang malinis dito. Hindi ko naman malaman kung bakit nilabas ni Gus ‘yun,” the Comelec chief said.
Brillantes claimed that Lagman was self-pontificating when he said that he returned the funds because he was being forced to accept it. The poll chief said Lagman was lying because the money was returned since the latter was not confirmed by the Commission on Appointments.
“Kailangan isauli nya talaga dahil hindi naman nya nagastos,” he told reporters.
The Comelec head also questioned why Lagman accepted the money in the first place, noting that Lagman held the funds from August 2011 to March last year.
Brillantes said the issue is no big deal because the release of the intelligence funds is legitimate.
“I don’t want to create any problem about it. Ewan ko bakit nya nilabas. Anyway, gusto nya palabasin na officially napakabait nya dito financially. I can confirm that hindi sya magastos kasi naman sya siguro ang pinakamayaman sa amin,” he added.
Brillantes revealed that he already received the poll body’s intelligence fund for this year and the money has been distributed to the commissioners. He refused to give out any details.
Meanwhile, Commissioners Elias Yusoph and Christian Lim declined to comment on the issue.
As of press time, Commissioners Lucenito Tagle, Grace Padaca, Luie Guia and Al Parreño did not return calls and did not reply to text messages by The Manila Times.
On Wednesday, Lagman, who served as poll commissioner from June 2011 to March 2012, revealed that he received P1.25 million as his share of the intelligence fund during his stint at the poll body.
“Sometime in 2011, I received a check payable to me for P1 million, followed a few months later by another P250,000, as ‘intelligence’ fund, or ‘I.F.’, as they referred to it.
Presumably, all Commissioners received an equal amount, with the Chairman, receiving double that, according to one of the commissioners,” Lagman said in a statement.
“In early 2012, somebody from Finance asked me to sign a document [just one sheet]that would liquidate the fund. The document basically said that I spent the amount on a variety of activities, none of which I actually did. I therefore refused to sign the document and said that I would just return the money, still untouched,” he added.
Aside from the intelligence fund, Lagman said that he also returned unspent representation allowance during official trips abroad, ($800 every trip), on top of the other travel expenses such as plane fare, lodging, and per diems.