Addition of 68 Davao City villages for P1.58B counterinsurgency funding justified, says Esperon
MANILA, Philippines—National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. on Friday (Nov. 20) insisted that adding dozens of Davao City villages to the list of those that would receive P1.58 billion in counterinsurgency funding for the city alone was a justified move.
Davao City, President Rodrigo Duterte’s hometown, will get P1.58 billion, or about 10 percent of the total P16.4 billion, for the barangay development program of the counterinsurgency strategy now being enforced by the National Task Force to End Local Communist Insurgency (NTF-Elcac).
An executive order of Duterte created the task force to carry out what the EO said was a “whole of government approach” in defeating communist guerrillas by the end of Duterte’s term. Duterte himself chairs the task force.
The strategy is to pour billions of pesos into programs to lure guerrillas to turn themselves and their firearms in in exchange for livelihood financing, and funds for housing. By pouring funds into development programs for some of the country’s remotest villages, the strategy hopes to turn residents into government allies against insurgents, depriving guerrillas of bases of support.
In a statement, Esperon said the barangay development program would bring economic progress in the long run and weaken communist guerrillas.
Esperon, task force vice chair, said villages that had been selected to share slices of the billion-peso pie had “undergone scrutiny as well as a thorough validation from various national government agencies.”
He said villages that were selected for funding were “indeed vulnerable to the threat and influence of the New People’s Army.”
Citing data from the police and military, Esperon, armed forces chief of staff of former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, said the Davao region was “a recruitment and training ground for the NPA.”
Duterte was a long-time mayor of Davao City who drew national attention by interceding for the release of NPA captives in ceremonies inside rebel camps.
According to Esperon, eight of 10 NPA members in Eastern Mindanao had been recruited from indigenous peoples groups. There are at least 10 ethnic groups in Davao City, he said.
In Davao City, Esperon said schools run by Salugpungan, which provides education to lumad children, had been operating illegally. Salugpungan schools had been red-tagged by the military and ordered shut by the Department of Education.
“In 2019, more than 55 Salugpungan schools illegally operating and recruiting indigenous children into armed conflict,“ Esperon said.
Davao City, “the hub of economy in Mindanao,” is also “comprised of an extensive area” and “can be considered a province by itself,” Esperon said.
“Should Davao City succumb to the NPA, so goes the rest of Mindanao,” he said.
Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte, the President’s daughter, had said her city listed only 15 villages as priority for funding but the task force added 68 more.
Critics had said the program was a form of “pork barrel” for ex-military generals and could be used for the next elections, which drew a sharp reply from Esperon who said those against the task force could be considered as communist sympathizers.
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