Drilon questions ‘speedy, sneaky’ release of funds to NTF-ELCAC
MANILA, Philippines — The government’s controversial anti-insurgency task force has already received more than half of its share of the 2021 national budget, yet the proposed P8,000 “ayuda’’ for private sector workers hit by the pandemic remains unfunded, a Senate opposition leader said on Tuesday.
Based on data from the Department of Budget and Management (DBM), a total of P10.68 billion has been released to the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-Elcac) as of April, representing more than 50 percent of its P19.1 billion budget this year.
“Why the haste in releasing the budget? Why is the release of the Marawi rehabilitation fund slower [than for NTF-Elcac?] Where will they use the P10.68 billion?” Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said.
Drilon said P7.9 billion was released to the NTF-Elcac in April alone, around the time the task force came under fire for “Red-tagging” some organizers of community pantries, the projects inspired by a food aid station set up on a Quezon City sidewalk that month. Earlier, on March 24, the task force received P3.13 billion, he said.
The senator said the “sneaky” and “speedy” release of NTF-Elcac’s budget was made while the government was still looking for ways to fund the proposed P8,000 cash aid for private sector workers.
The Inquirer sought NTF-Elcac vice chair and National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. and his spokespersons for comment, but they had yet to respond at press time.
“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,” Drilon 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 (cash aid), buy vaccines and feed the poor.”
Under the General Appropriations Act of 2021, NTF-Elcac is given a total appropriation of P19.1 billion, of which P16.4 billion will go to its Barangay Development Program wherein 800 villages “cleared of communist influence” will be receiving P20 million each.
A DBM circular earlier showed that Davao region would receive P4.3 billion of the program’s funding, with Davao City—President Duterte’s hometown—getting the lion’s share of P1.64 billion.
Where did money go?
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.
“Where did the P10.68 billion go? Which barangays? Which cities and towns have benefited from it? In the spirit of transparency, let us publish the data and inform the public,” he said.
Drilon and other senators earlier called on Congress to defund the NTF-Elcac and realign the money to COVID-19 programs. This was after the task force spokespersons, Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade Jr. and Communications Undersecretary Lorraine Badoy, made unsupported allegations linking some community pantry organizers to communist insurgents.
Parlade then called the senators “stupid” for planning to take back the budget they themselves had approved. He later apologized for the remark, but 15 senators last week signed a resolution calling for his censure.
Drilon noted that the funds were released to the NTF-Elcac “amid strong opposition from lawmakers, both in the majority and minority blocs in the Senate and the House of Representatives.”
—With a report from Jeannette I. Andrade
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.