Esperon moves to stop blowback
National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. tried to contain the blowback from the controversial accusations of his subordinate, Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade Jr., and maintained that Congress must not defund a program meant to develop the countryside and end the communist insurgency.
In a statement released on Wednesday, Esperon explained that the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-Elcac), of which he is vice chair and Parlade the spokesperson, aims to uplift rural living conditions that have been aggravated by the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and its armed wing, the New People’s Army (NPA).
To win hearts and minds
“This is what we at the NTF-Elcac are aiming to achieve through the barangay development program (BDP),” Esperon said in the three-page statement.
“Our strategic framework entails the achievement of a genuine and lasting peace through holistic programs and activities. In spirit and in truth, the core of the NTF-Elcac is good governance in practice,” said the retired Armed Forces chief.
“The NTF-Elcac, through the ‘whole of nation’ approach, truly values improving the lives of Filipinos, unlike the eccentric violence of the CPP-NPA. This [is] the type of confidence-building mechanism we need, not the self-destructive measures that the CPP-NPA brings about,” Esperon said.
While the task force aims to dismantle the NPA and its underground organizations, Esperon said there were parallel efforts to develop areas formerly held by the insurgents, a commitment by the NTF-Elcac to the Filipino people.
“The latter part is what the CPP-NPA advertently fails to recognize or is trying to block,” Esperon lamented.“In the strongest terms, I denounce the personalities [who] claim to be ‘progressive’ and are calling for the dismantling of the NTF-Elcac and the defunding of the [BDP],” Esperon said, adding that the NTF-Elcac does not infringe on the civil liberties and freedoms of the Filipino people despite Parlade’s unsubstantiated accusations against Miss Universe 2018 Catriona Gray and actresses Liza Soberano and Angel Locsin.
But one of the “progressive” groups Esperon tagged, the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) which is represented in Congress, said the NTC-Elcac was just showboating and Parlade embarked on a “crazy crusade” just so they could get the P19.1 billion they were asking from Congress.
“Looks like Parlade and the NTF-Elcac [are] desperately trying to prove their relevance through indiscriminate Red-tagging to bag the proposed 3,000-percent increase in their budget next year,” said ACT secretary general Raymond Basilio.
Basilio also said Parlade might have “so much to gain” from the increase in the NTF-Elcac’s budget, majority of which, he said, were pork barrel funds for generals, a claim that the government has vehemently denied.
“We can only watch in disgust knowing that taxpayers’ money pays for this madness while our teachers and students in distance learning are deprived of enough government subsidy,” Basilio said as he urged Congress “to put to meaningful use” the P19.1 billion sought by the NTF-Elcac, which would only be a waste of taxpayers’ money.
Several lawmakers, both in the Senate and the House of Representatives, have questioned the motives and wisdom of the NTF-Elcac’s proposed budget of P19.1 billion, P16.4 billion of which was allocated for the BDP.
Basilo said the P16-billion allocation could instead be used as teaching expense allowance for the country’s 900,000 public school educators who remain underpaid and overworked amid new learning platforms triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“At the time of the pandemic, when our main concerns are treating the sick and putting food on the table, when we struggle to uphold education to mitigate the pandemic’s long-term impact [on] the nation, it is plainly incomprehensible why the Duterte government is prioritizing instead a program that fuels political strife,” Basilio said.
“NTF-Elcac’s malicious and nonsensical Red-tagging tirade holds no value to our teachers. Where are the laptops and the internet allowance that we need for distance teaching? Where are the funds for module printing and safe schools?” Basilio said.
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