Intelligence fund – legal but not moral

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The run-in between Chairman Sixto Brillantes Jr. of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) and former Commissioner Gus Lagman brought to the fore once again the issue of intelligence fund.

Whatever the Executive department says about the matter—Assistant spokesperson Valte maintained in a recent media briefing that it was necessary—there could be no good justification for the fund, if one considers the manner by which it is disbursed.

In an interview with the media, Mr. Lagman said he had returned his share, an admission that the money was totally unnecessary, at least as far as he was concerned. But the Comelec chief suggested the fellow was merely sour-graping.

To a public weary of corruption in high places, the exchange between the two is just a case of the pot calling the kettle black. But there was no corruption here, if we go by the book.

The intelligence fund is perfectly legal, sanctioned by tradition and the law. It is disbursed by the President, as is the case of the Comelec, from funds appropriated by Congress. Still, the intention is far from noble: to keep presidential appointees loyal to the cause, especially those who, like Mr. Brillantes, enjoy a fixed term and therefore can very well thumb their noses at the appointing authority.

Nothing beats money as a means to make people happy.

Intelligence fund is to executive officials as pork barrel is to senators and congressmen. It is a source of corruption, meant to sustain the lifestyle that elected and appointed government officials are used to. It allows them to drive around in the latest car models, buy condominium units—and send their children to exclusive schools—here and abroad.

There was a public outcry over revelations that former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and General Manager Rosario Uriarte of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office had misused intelligence fund amounting to P366 million. By that the prosecutors—the two are facing charges of plunder—meant the money was diverted to serve purposes other than official.

The Department of Justice notes that the purpose stated in the certification to justify the release is vague: the money is intended for intelligence gathering.

Is it a crime to release the money without stating the specific purpose for which it would be spent? If so, all officials in the Executive department are equally guilty, including Mr. Brillantes and his commissioners.

But Mr. Brillantes only happens to be the man in the eye of the storm. Actually, all members of the Cabinet, the Ombudsman, the chief justice and associate justices of the Supreme Court, and the heads and assistant heads of all imaginable departments in the government have such a fund at their disposal.

Oh, and don’t forget. The Armed Forces of the Philippines and Philippine National Police chiefs and officers directly under them also enjoy that perk. In fact, it is these two departments that first conceived of the idea. Others only copied it, realizing it to be a clever way to, well, raid the public coffers.

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