Senator: NTF-ELCAC funds could be ‘election giveaway’

Senator: NTF-ELCAC funds could be âelection giveawayâ
Progressive groups hold protest along Padre Faura Street in Manila, as the Supreme Court held its first session of oral arguments on Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 on February 2.
Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas / released

MANILA, Philippines — The proposal to double the funds available to the government's anti-insurgency task force could easily be used by politicians for election purposes later on in the 2022 polls, a senator warned Tuesday. 

Citing sources from the Department of Budget and Management, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon warned of what he said was a plan to increase the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict's budget to as high as P40 billion next year. 

Interior Secretary Eduardo Año, a member of the NTF-ELCAC, has himself admitted that the national government would push for an increased budget for the task force in 2022 to supposedly assist in the barangay development projects for 2,000 barangays cleared of communist rebels.

“Let's not mince words: It’s an election giveaway,” the opposition senator said in a statement sent to reporters Tuesday afternoon. 

Drilon questioned the allocation, warning that "soft infra" projects can "easily be used for election purposes and could easily be stolen."

"Do not forget that 2022 is an election year. Therefore, these amounts of money available is a campaign kitty, whether you like it or not. The fact is, a good portion of this NTF-ELCAC funds is what we call soft programs such as training and livelihood and these are funds that are easy to manipulate in terms of beneficiaries," he said. 

Rights group Karapatan — also among those accused of communist ties — earlier said it found that rights violations increased in barangays that supposedly benefited from the task force's Barangay Development Program.

The red-tagging NTF-ELCAC has been no stranger to controversy over the coronavirus pandemic. It continues to publicly red-tag celebrities and even registered lawmakers while, according to progressive groups, being behind raids on left-leaning activists and leaders. 

"Remember that the various departments would have their own budget designed to assist all the barangays. Why are we again allocating extra funds for these when we have different departments already implementing these projects? We will examine closely how this money was spent," Drilon said. 

"Beyond the legalities of this, it indicates how loosely the funds are used. Given our situation today, allocating a substantial amount of our budget is misplaced, because, to me, we need funds for ayuda."

Misplaced priorities

Drilon also questioned the Duterte administration's continued thrust towards anti-insurgency efforts in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic. 

To date, 1.61 million coronavirus infections have been recorded in the country, 63,137 of whom are still classified as active cases. 

As of July, Año's DILG said that "99%" or P16.24 out of P16.44 billion of the barangay development fund has already been released to local governments around the country. 

But Drilon on Tuesday pointed to the lack of established plans to roll out cash and material aid to the country's poorest who will have to follow strict stay-at-home orders once more with the imposition of enhanced community quarantine on Friday. 

RELATED: Drilon: Government prioritizing funds for NTF-ELCAC over ayuda

"Whether it is P16 billion or P28 billion of P40 billion, I think what is clear is that the budget indicates misplaced priorities that we have in this administration," he said. 

"With the planned lockdown again, the estimated unemployment will again rise. As of May, there are already nearly 4 million unemployed. That number could increase in the next two weeks when we enforce the lockdown. That is why to me the priority should be the ayuda rather than anti-insurgency."

To recall, over P7 billion was released to the NTF-ELAC in April when lawmakers were calling for its budget to be realigned to the government's pandemic response.

Other senators in the higher chamber have since joined calls to defund the task force, which has been caught in a lie on more than one occasion.

Drilon reiterated his call for a defunded NTF-ELCAC, adding that the opposition is united on the issue. 

Asked how he could convince fellow senators to oppose the allocation, Drilon said: "That is a political decision on the part of my fellow legislators whether they will allow a situation when an opportunity to use public funds for election is very obvious."

— with a report from Bella Perez-Rubio 

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