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Speedy release of P10.6 billion to NTF-ELCAC questioned
Citing data from the Department of Budget and Management (DBM), Drilon said the total fund releases to the NTF-ELCAC amounted to P10.68 billion as of April.
The STAR/Geremy Pintolo, File

Speedy release of P10.6 billion to NTF-ELCAC questioned

Paolo Romero (The Philippine Star) - May 5, 2021 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon yesterday questioned what he described as the speedy release of P10.6 billion to the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict, which was transferred within just two months or when calls were made to defund the NTF-ELCAC and realign the budget to the government’s COVID-19 response.

Citing data from the Department of Budget and Management (DBM), Drilon said the total fund releases to the NTF-ELCAC amounted to P10.68 billion as of April.

The task force has a total appropriation of P19 billion under the 2021 General Appropriations Act (GAA). Of the amount, P16.4 billion will go to its Barangay Development Program, wherein over 800 barangays will receive P20 million each.

Drilon said while the country’s ayuda (cash aid) of P8,000 for private sector workers remains a proposal and unfunded, the controversial task force has received a total of P10.68 billion.

Of the P10.68 billion, P7.54 billion was released in April alone, following calls to defund the task force due to the red-tagging of community pantry organizers.

“Why the seeming rush to release the budget? Why is the release of funds for Marawi rehabilitation slow? Where will the P10.68 billion be used?” Drilon asked.

He said he found the disbursements sneaky as “there is a clear haste in the releases” due to demands to realign the anti-insurgency funds.

On March 24, the NTF-ELCAC received P3.14 billion.

Drilon said defeating the COVID virus and addressing the effects of the pandemic such as unemployment and hunger should be the priority of the Duterte administration.

He said 62 percent of Filipino households experienced hunger and 4.4 million lost their jobs in 2020 due to the pandemic.

“Yet, the government is giving priority to NTF-ELCAC’s anti-insurgency program rather than use the funds to expand ayuda, buy vaccines and feed the poor,” Drilon said.

There is a pending Bayanihan 3 measure in Congress that will provide a bigger economic stimulus. But its passage is surrounded by uncertainty over the availability of funds, he said.

Drilon questioned the lack of transparency on the budget of NTF-ELCAC as he reiterated his call for the submission of a quarterly report on the utilization of the P19-billion fund as mandated under the 2021 GAA.

The 2021 GAA provides that the implementing agencies and NTF-ELCAC should submit to the Office of the President, DBM, House of Representatives and the Senate, either in printed or electronic form, quarterly reports on the utilization of funds and physical accomplishments.

Drilon said the task force submitted the report to Senate President Vicente Sotto III, Sen. Panfilo Lacson, who chairs the committee on national defense and security, and Sen. Sonny Angara, chairman of the finance committee.

Angara said he would ask for a more detailed report from the NTF-ELCAC.

Meanwhile, Defense Undersecretary Reynaldo Mapagu, chair of Task Force Balik-Loob, said defunding the NTF-ELCAC would jeopardize the government’s efforts to end the country’s insurgency problem.

Mapagu said the whole-of-government approach being taken to end the insurgency problem must be supported and sustained.

He said the creation of the NTF-ELCAC heralded the beginning of a proactive and inclusive approach to the problem and violence perpetrated by what the government now considers as a communist terrorist group.

“As we make headway in our advocacies, especially for the communities that have been overlooked for the longest time and forced to grapple with the insurgency problem on their own, many of our fellow Filipinos have already benefited from the programs facilitated and enabled by the NTF-ELCAC,” Mapagu said.

“Defunding the task force and the programs it facilitates will jeopardize the progress we have made over the past years, especially the Barangay Development Program for our communities as well as our localized reintegration program for former rebels,” Mapagu, chair of the enhanced comprehensive local integration program and amnesty program cluster of the NTF-ELCAC, said.

Senators sought to defund the NTF-ELCAC after Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade and Communications Undersecretary Lorraine Badoy, both spokespersons for the anti-insurgency body, linked organizers of community pantries to the communist group.

The NTF-ELCAC was created by President Duterte in 2018 by issuing Executive Order 70 to solve the insurgency problem through peaceful means.

During a visit in Leyte last week, Sen. Bong Go said he was not amenable to the proposal of his fellow senators to defund the NTF-ELCAC. “Whatever good efforts in development, under the anti-insurgency campaign, will be retarded if the NTF-ELCAC will have no funds at all,” Go said.

The government allotted budget for development projects in the barangays, said Go.

“The campaign should continue. The NTF-ELCAC is doing good,” he said.

Rep. Lucy Torres-Gomez opposed moves in Congress to defund NTF-ELCAC.

Gomez, chair of the House disaster resilience committee, said that while she supports calls for accountability of NTF-ELCAC over the red-tagging issue, she believes defunding the anti-insurgency body is drastic and will not solve the issue.

She cited the P16-billion budget earmarked for the Barangay Development Program, which helped many former rebels return to mainstream society.

She said the budget is a major headway toward achieving peace, especially in the countryside.

“It does not have to be one or the other. We can support community pantries at the same time continue our successful programs toward achieving peace through the NTF-ELCAC. While I strongly agree that public officials should be held accountable for their actions and statements, let us take rational actions that will not jeopardize localized programs to end insurgency,” she said.

Gomez reminded NTF-ELCAC officials that red-tagging community pantry organizers stifles much needed efforts to feed hungry families affected by the pandemic. – Michael Punongbayan, Edu Punay, Miriam Desacada

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