Redirect part of anti-insurgency funds to 'Rolly' relief, rehab — Hontiveros

Bella Perez-Rubio - Philstar.com
Redirect part of anti-insurgency funds to 'Rolly' relief, rehab � Hontiveros
A handout photo taken on October 31, 2020 from the facebook page of Philippine Coast Guard, shows personnel from the coast guard evacuating residents from the coastal villages of Buhi town, Camarines Sur province, south of Manila, to a safer place, ahead of Typhoon Goni's landfall.
Philippine Coast Guard via AFP

MANILA, Philippines — A senator on Tuesday called for the reallocation of a portion of the government's anti-communist task force's proposed budget for 2021 to victims of Super Typhoon Rolly which struck the country over the weekend. 

Sen. Risa Hontiveros made the proposal during a committee hearing on red-tagging which was spurred by a recent slew of accusations hurled against public figures and a women's group by Lt.Gen. Antionio Parlade, spokesman for the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict. 

"We are holding this hearing on the heels of the strongest typhoon of the world for 2020. It directly hit the Bicol region, which is one of the regions identified as having a communist insurgency problem," Hontiveros said. 

"As early as now, I will say: the 16 billion pesos budget of the NTF-ELCAC barangay development program, I will call for a portion of it to be reallocated to typhoon rehabilitation," she added partially in Filipino. 

Under the program, which accounts for P16 billion of the NTF-ELCAC's around P19 billion proposed budget for the task force for 2021, the government seeks to distribute P20 million to barangays which have been certified by authorities as cleared of communist rebels.

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon last month flagged the manner of disbursements for the funds, saying the task force is given too much discretion.

"It is clear that the billions earmarked for NTF-ELCAC would be better spent on helping Filipinos battered by the typhoon get back on their feet,” Hontiveros said in a separate statement. 

Rolly, which left 17 dead and three missing, was projected by the country's disaster coordinating council to affect up to 31 million Filipinos. Hontiveros, during her opening statement on Tuesday, pointed out that the NTF-ELCAC's budget far outpaces the P632 million allotted to the Department of Housing Settlements and Urban Development. 

She also pointed out that other key agencies such as the Office of the Ombudsman with P3.36 billion, the Department of Budget & Management  with P1.9 billion, and even the Department of Finance with P17.46 billion received smaller allocations than the government's anti-communist task force.

The senator previously called for P8 billion worth of funds under the same project to be allocated to the health sector. 

“We should not spend such an inordinate amount of time and money on an agency running after ordinary citizens using the communist bogeyman. This is on top of the NTF-ELCAC's bad track record of spreading fake news and silencing critical and dissenting voices." 

'Military officials targeting Filipinos but no action vs China'

In addition to seeking a reallocation of its funds, Hontiveros slammed the anti-communist task force for causing "a chilling effect on citizens who only want to weigh in on issues of national importance and hold government to account for its failures to the people." 

She also accused military officials of "spending an inordinate amount of time running after ordinary citizens," even as it poses no opposition to the security risks posed by China. 

"[A] former AFP chief has stated that China will seize the Philippines by force if a war were to break out between Beijing and Washington. Is this not a more imminent and more compelling threat? All focused on the CPP and the NPA - the remnants of an insurgency facing imminent defeat in the battlefield — but no protest to the entry of a foreign nation in our country," she said partially in Filipino. 

Lacson: Allegations of red-tagging 'a crisis' 

Sen. Ping Lacson, who chairs the Senate defense committee, during the same hearing, flagged the crisis posed by the alleged red-tagging of military officials. 

"When no distinction has been made between an activist and a terrorist; an idealist and an extremist; a reformist and a subversive, we risk putting everyone under a cloud of suspicion; and our society in a constant state of insecurity," he said.

Lacson called for the probe following accusations made by Parlade specifically against celebrities Catriona Gray, Angel Locsin, Liza Soberano and the Gabriela Women's Party. 

Parlade also claims Locsin's sister, Ella Colmenares, was a member of the New People's Army. Colmenares has denied the accusation.

"To say the least, the alleged red-tagging is a crisis in itself. Rightly or wrongly, it stirs public outcry and imperils our conscientious effort to uphold and protect human rights in the country while strengthening our law enforcement measures," Lacson added. 

"These issues most unfortunately transpire in the foreground of the passage of the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 and the vigorous efforts of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) – both of which give our military and police personnel the necessary tools to fight terrorism on one hand as well as local communist insurgency on the other," he further said. 

Lacson is principal author at the Senate of the much-feared Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, the implementing rules and regulations of which allow the government to publish its list of suspected terrorists online and in the national dailies.

Progressive groups invited to the hearing as well as representatives from the Makabyan bloc of the House of Representatives were not in attendance. Instead, a lawyer representing the Makabyan bloc attended the probe. 

Lacson said that former Rep. Neri Colmenares (Bayan Muna Party-list), who was also red-tagged by Parlade, asked for a separate hearing without military officials present.

Rep. Arlene Brosas  (Gabriela Women's Party-list) and Rep. Sarah Elago (Kabataan Party-list) also did not attend and are instead en route to participate in relief operations in Cavite which was also badly hit by Rolly.

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