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Duterte's officials have no idea how much martial law costs
Ranking officials of the Duterte administration could not say how much impact will martial law have on the public coffers should it be extended for five more months in Mindanao. Top photo shows the joint session of Congress on Saturday, July 22, 2017. Also pictured are Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea and Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana.
MANILA, Philippines — Members of President Rodrigo Duterte's Cabinet did not prepare answers to queries of lawmakers at the joint session of Congress on Saturday on the financial cost of martial law in Mindanao.
House minority leader Danilo Suarez said that a major military operation this year could not be factored in when the General Appropriations Act was being deliberated on last year.
"I would expect that by this time, your third quarter budget for the armed forces is already depleted," Suarez said, using up his allotted time for interpellation during the session.
Armed forces chief of staff Eduardo Año confirmed that funds of the military were nearly used up by the urban battle in Marawi City, where forces are trying to secure areas controlled by a Islamic State-affiliated terrorist coalition.
But neither Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, the administrator of martial law, nor Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea, the most senior official at Malacañang, knew how much of the 2017 budget has been spent and is expected to incur should martial law be extended for five more months.
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The proceeding on Saturday was called to deliberate on Duterte's proposal to extend the effectivity of martial law in the country's south until Dec. 31, 2017, seven months after a botched military raid in the city in May. The operation triggered the execution of a terrorist plan to lay siege there.
Suarez said Malacañang has not approached Congress for supplemental defense budget to accompany its proposal for the continued implementation of martial rule.
"I suggest that the executive writes the official letters, request both houses for an adoption on the use," Suarez said.
Kabataan party-list Rep. Sarah Elago similarly raised the question at the session and expressed her disappointment that the Palace officials did not consider the budget problem and had no apparent plan on where the funds will be taken.
"Hindi naman po pupuwede na hindi natin alam, 'di ba? O wala po tayong maski man approximation dito sa financing nitong extension ng martial law. Pinaguusapan po natin dito ay limang buwan," Elago said.
("It would be unacceptable that you don't know, am I right? We don't have any approximation on the financing needs for the extension of martial law. We're referring to five more months.")
Lorenzana said that the defense department will approach Duterte to ask for additional expenses, but Medialdea does not seem to know about a possible supplemental budget.
"At this point, I cannot answer you. I have no idea, frankly," Medialdea said. He then suggested that funds used for Marawi come from the "normal" maintenance and other operating expenses, or MOOE, allotted by the budget law.
This year's General Appropriations Act approves military operating expenditures of around P95 billion. — Camille Diola