Parlade critic in Senate pushes realignment of task force funds
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon on Friday pressed for the realignment of the budget of the government’s anticommunist task force to pandemic response such as the vaccination program.
His proposal, which is backed by other lawmakers, came after the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-Elcac) was widely criticized for Red-tagging some of the organizers of the community pantries, which is now a nationwide citizens’ food aid project for the poor.
Other senators say the P19-billion budget for the NTF-Elcac, particularly the P16 billion allocated for development projects for about 800 villages which had been “freed” of communist rebel influence, should go to the people’s health needs and cash aid.
Drilon said the law gave the President “full authority” to realign these funds to the much needed and urgent assistance to residents affected in the National Capital Region and the provinces of Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna and Rizal—the areas worst hit by the COVID-19 surge and under modified enhanced community quarantine.
Drilon and several members of the House of Representatives on Friday said that by law Congress could also compel the NTF-Elcac to give an accounting of its use of its funds over the years.
“I will request the Senate leadership to require NTC-Elcac to submit their quarterly report,” the senator said in a television interview.
Many lawmakers are also calling for the defunding of the task force, but Drilon said it could only be done in the 2022 budget.
Drilon slammed NTF-Elcac spokesperson Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade Jr. for disrespecting the Senators by calling them “stupid” for wanting to defund the task force.
Parlade said in a television interview on Thursday the senators would be stupid if they defund an agency which they had allocated money for.
“It’s really disrespectful, to say the least, if Parlade said that we are stupid for passing this (task force budget),” Drilon said, adding that he personally tried to place “safeguards” in the use of the funds.
He earlier described the P16-billion fund for barangay development projects as a Malacañang pork barrel which could be used for the 2022 elections.
Drilon urged Parlade to resign from the task force, saying the Constitution prohibited active duty military officer from occupying a civilian post.
In calling for an audit of the task force’s funds, 1-Pacman Rep. Michael Romero said he wanted its officials to “give details as to where and how the funds are being used, and how their vilification tactics translate to having more communist rebels turning their backs on insurgency.”
Too wicked to be ignored
The “villification tactics” refer to the labeling of government critics, activists, human rights workers, even several lawmakers, and lately some of the organizers of the community pantries, as members of the communist movement or their supporters.
Human rights advocates say that Red-tagging has led to violent attacks, illegal arrest and killings of people linked to communist rebels.
“The rampant unlawful profiling and obvious Red-tagging of organizers of community pantries by officials of the NTF-Elcac are simply too wicked to be ignored by the members of this august chamber,” he said.
Misamis Oriental Rep. Juliette Uy also supported the call for an accounting of the budget of the task force. She asked the Commission on Audit and the National Privacy Commission to immediately conduct special audits of the NTF-Elcac covering the years 2019 and 2020.
The profiling and surveillance of community pantries forced Ana Patricia Non, who opened the first community pantry on Maginhawa Street in Quezon City, to temporarily halt operation out of concern for the security of volunteer workers.
Another community pantry in Pandacan, Manila, also stopped its food distribution for the same reason.
“Attributing malice, without presenting hard evidence, sows division among Filipinos and send chilling effect to those who may want to help their fellow countrymen,” Romero said. INQ
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