‘Speedy’ release: NTF-ELCAC receives over P10.6-B fund in a month
MANILA, Philippines — In just a month, over P10.6 billion has already been released to the country’s anti-insurgency task force, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said as he questioned the government’s spending priorities amid the pandemic.
“Bakit po parang nagmadaling ilabas ang budget? Bakit yung pondo sa Marawi rehabilitation mabagal ang paglabas ng pondo? Saan po gagamitin itong P10.68 bilyon?” Drilon said in a statement Tuesday.
(Why is that you seemed in a hurry to release the budget? Why is the release of the fund for the rehabilitation of Marawi is taking so long? Where do you intend to use the P10.68 billion?)
Data from the Department of Budget and Management (DBM), shared by Drilon’s office, showed that more than P10.6 billion has been released to the National Task Force to End Local Communism and Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) from March 24 to April 29 this year.
Under the 2021 national budget, a total of P19 billion is allocated for NTF-ELCAC, P16.4 billion of which is earmarked for the task force’s barangay development program wherein over 800 barangays “cleared” of insurgency will receive P20 million each.
Drilon pointed out that while additional cash assistance for pandemic-hit Filipinos “remains a proposal and unfunded,” the NTF-ELCAC has already received a total of P10.68 billion, P7.54 billion of which was released in April alone amid widespread criticisms against the task force’s red-tagging of community pantry operations.
At present, several bills have been filed in Congress seeking a third Bayanihan measure that will provide a bigger economic stimulus. But Drilon said its passage is “surrounded by uncertainties over the availability funds.”
“Defeating the virus and addressing the effects of the pandemic such as unemployment and hunger should be our priority. There are 62 percent Filipino households who experienced hunger due to COVID-19 pandemic,” the minority leader said.
“There are 4.4 million Filipinos who lost jobs in 2020. Yet, the government is giving priority to NTF-ELCAC’s anti-insurgency program rather than use the funds to expand ayuda, buy vaccines and feed the poor,” he added.
Drilon also questioned the supposed lack of transparency on the budget of NTF-ELCAC as he reiterated his call for the submission of a quarterly report on the utilization of the task force’s P19-billion fund as mandated under the 2021 budget.
The 2021 General Appropriations Act, he noted, provides that “the implementing agencies and NTF-ELCAC shall submit to the Office of the President, DBM, House of Representatives and the Senate, either in printed form or by way of electronic document, quarterly reports on the utilization of funds and physical accomplishments.”
He pointed out that the NTF-ELCAC funds were released amid strong opposition from lawmakers to realign NTF-ELCAC’s P19 billion budget to the government’s pandemic response.
Drilon said the Senate should use its oversight function to scrutinize the use of NTF-ELCAC’s funds and compel the task force to submit a report to Congress.
“Saan po ba napunta ang P10.68 billion? Anong barangay? Anong siyudad o bayan ang nakinabang dito? In the spirit of transparency, let us publish the data and inform the public,” he said.
(Where did the P10.68 billion go? What barangay? What city or town benefitted from it?)
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