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Palace wants P28 billion NTF-ELCAC budget

Helen Flores - The Philippine Star
Palace wants P28 billion NTF-ELCAC budget
File photo shows presidential spokesperson Harry Roque.
The STAR / Joven Cagande

MANILA, Philippines — Malacañang defended yesterday the P28-billion proposed budget for the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) for next year, saying it would be spent for the poorest communities where rebel recruitment is high.

The Duterte administration is seeking a budget of P28.1 billion for the NTF-ELCAC in 2022, up from P19 billion this year.

“Even if there is a pandemic, we still know that hunger is the cause of insurgency. These projects will provide employment to those who are struggling in life and the reason why they become rebels,” presidential spokesman Harry Roque said at a press briefing.

“Most of the barangays where the New People’s Army (NPA) recruits members are in fifth and sixth class municipalities,” he said in justifying the administration’s move to subsidize local projects such as those under the NTF-ELCAC’s Barangay Development Program (BDP).

Roque also denied allegations by the Makabayan bloc that there was an illegal fund transfer from the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) to the NTF-ELCAC.

“There is no truth to that because the funding is given directly to the communities,” the Palace spokesman said.

Roque said while the budget comes from the NTF-ELCAC’s program, the projects are being carried out by the local government units or the Department of Public Works and Highways.

He also assured the public that the funds transferred to communities would not be used for the 2022 general elections.

“We already have constitutional guarantees. We have a ban on public works projects during the election period,” Roque said.

Under the proposed 2022 national budget, the NTF-ELCAC’s BDP will rehabilitate 1,406 barangays in conflict-hit areas in the country.

Senators slam NTF-ELCAC budget

Senators slammed yesterday what they described as Malacañang’s misplaced priorities in increasing the budget of the NTF-ELCAC.

Sen. Nancy Binay said the NTF-ELCAC’s allocation increased by P11 billion, but the budget for the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM), the country’s primary infectious disease research and laboratory facility, was slashed by P170 million.

“What’s happening? Our enemy is COVID. Is the ELCAC more important than RITM? It does not make sense. Government seems to be removed from the realities on the ground,” Binay said.

Given the limited fiscal resources, Binay said it is wrong to prioritize P28 billion on a misplaced agenda over a crucial public health agenda that has a direct impact on the health of 100 million Filipinos.

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon vowed to root out what he said were the wasteful and unnecessary government spending in the proposed P5.024-trillion 2022 national budget to ease the impact of the mounting national debt and expanding budget deficit.

Drilon said it would be up to Congress, where the power of the purse lies, to trim the unnecessary spending in the budget, such as the P28.1-billion anti-insurgency fund lodged under the NTF-ELCAC.

He also cited the government’s confidential and intelligence funds worth billions of pesos as among the items that can be reduced to save money. – Paolo Romero

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