Palace defends red-tagging task force’s P19B budget

Bella Perez-Rubio - Philstar.com

MANILA, Philippines — Malacañang on Thursday said calls from lawmakers to defund the government's anti-communist task force are not "justified" even amid the red-tagging of community pantry organizers by its spokespersons. 

As of this writing, five senators have called for the realignment of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict's entire 2022 budget to the government's pandemic response while another three have said they want to review the funds. 

READ: 'Sayang lang pera’: Senators want to defund red-tagging task force

"ELCAC funding is for projects that will provide progress in areas where there are still rebels," presidential spokesman Harry Roque said in Filipino during his regular briefing on Thursday. "So, to me, that is not justified." 

Roque was referring to the Barangay Development Program worth P16 billion which takes up the bulk of NTF-ELCAC's P19 billion budget. Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon previously flagged the task force's outsized discretion over the spending of the program's funds. 

Calls to defund the task force were first revived by Sen. Joel Villanueva on Twitter last night in response to Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade Jr.'s likening of Ana Patricia Non, the founder of the pioneering Maginhawa community pantry, to the devil. He was quickly backed by Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian. 

Minority Sens. Drilon, Risa Hontiveros and Kiko Pangilinan expressed support for the proposal on Thursday. Hontiveros also filed Senate Resolution No. 705, formalizing senators' condemnation of the red-tagging and profiling of community pantry organizers. 

READ: Senators: Leave community pantries alone

Sens. Nancy Binay, Richard Gordon, Panfilo Lacson and Grace Poe, meanwhile, have signaled that they are open to rethinking the NTF-ELCAC's budget. 

Lacson in his own statement Thursday said that while he has defended the budget of the Department of National Defense and its attached agencies since 2016, its refusal to dismiss Parlade as NTF-ELCAC spokesman leaves him unsure over whether he will "defend their budget this year with the same tenacity."

READ: Senate seeks red-tagging general's relief as NTF-ELCAC spokesperson

Senate President Tito Sotto, however, opposed realigning the task force's funds, telling several news outlets that it should be "defanged" instead of defunded. 

Passage of bill criminalizing red-tagging pushed anew 

Drilon in his statement called for the immediate passage of his Senate Bill No. 2121, or an Act Defining and Penalizing the Crime of Red-tagging. 

The proposed measure would punish red-tagging state agents with up to ten years in prison and disqualification from public office. 

In the meantime, Hontiveros reminded the NTF-ELCAC that Congress not only has the power of the purse but an oversight function. 

"So they should really leave the community pantries alone [or] we in the Senate will not leave alone our oversight function over the spending of the budget, especially when used in such a terrible manner," the senator said during a press conference. 





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