MANILA, NOVEMBER 8, 2010 (STAR) By Delon Porcalla - In line with his administration’s austerity measures, President Aquino has decided to cut the intelligence budget of the Office of the President for next year by P184 million, from P4.259 billion to P4.075 billion.

“This is consistent with our belt-tightening efforts and our desire to cut unprogrammed, unaudited fund sources in the spirit of transparency and fiscal discipline,” said Secretary Herminio Coloma of the Presidential Communications Office for Operations.

Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr. recommended the cost-cutting measure.

He said it was the same budget that was approved by the appropriations committee at the House of Representatives , which is headed by Mr. Aquino’s ally, Cavite Rep. Joseph Emilio Abaya.

In a statement, Ochoa said the Office of the President (OP) has also realigned the money from the Palace intelligence funds and the Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Commission to cover the funding requirements of two new offices.

He said the proposed 2011 national budget for maintenance, operating and other expenses has been reduced by P163.9 million, with professional services getting the biggest cut of P152.7 million.

Ochoa added that there is also a cutback of expenses for printing, advertising, travel and representation allowances.

“Addressing our growing deficit will require a team effort on the part of all government offices, as we all have to use our resources wisely, and the President’s office is doing its share by cutting back on various expenses,” he said.

Last August, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile urged the President to give up his office’s intelligence funds, first introduced during the time of deposed President Joseph Estrada in 1998.

Coloma said they were open to such a proposal.

The 2009 national budget under former president and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo allocated P538.4 million to an office called the Presidential Anti-Crime Commission (PACC).

Enrile suggested that for the Aquino administration to have a cost-effective government, the President could give up his intelligence fund and distribute the money to other agencies instead.

He said the OP had no allocation for an intelligence fund until former President Estrada formed the Presidential Anti-organized Crime Task Force (PAOCTF) with a budget of P400 million a year more than a decade ago.

After Estrada was ousted in 2001, his successor Mrs. Arroyo abolished the PAOCTF but retained the intelligence fund amounting to hundreds of millions of pesos.

“The Office of the President is not entitled to intelligence funds because it is a user of intelligence and not a gathering unit for intelligence,” Enrile said in an interview aired over radio station dzBB.

Enrile said an intelligence fund could not be used for personal benefit.

“Only those agencies involved in security should get intelligence funds,” he added.

Enrile proposed that Congress allocate intelligence funds only to the military, police, National Bureau of Investigation, Bureau of Immigration, and National Intelligence Coordinating Agency.

He said the Department of the Interior and Local Government, Office of the Vice President, government-owned and -controlled corporations, and government financial institutions should not get the funds.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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