Drilon calls out Dela Rosa for ‘bwisit’ remark
MANILA, Philippines — Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon on Sunday called out Sen. Ronald dela Rosa for unparliamentary language after the latter cursed at critics seeking to abolish the controversial National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-Elcac) over its red-tagging activities.
Dela Rosa, in an interview with AM radio station dzBB, said “Bwisit sila (how annoying they are),” referring to NTF-Elcac’s critics who sought to have the agency scrapped or defunded after its officials falsely labeled activists and government critics as communists.
As a result of mounting criticisms against NTF-Elcac, the Senate committee on finance slashed the agency’s proposed budget next year from P28 billion to P4 billion.
“They want to abolish it when the agency has become successful,” Dela Rosa said in Filipino. “All they can think of is politics. Just because they are in the opposition they don’t want the administration to be successful in addressing our problems.”
Drilon took exception to Dela Rosa’s words. In a statement he said, “Stop the name-calling. It will not get us anywhere. It is an insult to the senators and the institution we belong to. Let’s stick to the issue.”
In his interview with dzBB, Drilon said “This is a debate for the welfare of the people and we are only looking at how the people’s money is being spent.”
“I myself am opposing [NTF-Elcac]. That doesn’t make me ‘bwisit.’ We should not take this personally. We should talk about it,” Drilon said in Filipino.
He disputed Dela Rosa’s view that the opposition was exploiting the NTF-Elcac issue for politics.
“This is not politics. This is the people’s money,” he said.
The minority leader, whose term ends next year, has been critical of the government’s anti-insurgency program since 2020, calling it another “pork barrel” of the executive branch.
He cited a number of reasons for his opposition to the task force and his support for its budget cut by P24 billion—such as the lack of funding for the much-needed COVID-19 booster shots in the proposed General Appropriations Act of 2022.
The proposed national budget allocated P45 billion for the purchase of COVID-19 vaccines under an unprogrammed fund.
But Drilon said it would be best to rechannel the funds in support of the government’s pandemic response.
Besides the lack of funds for booster shots, there was no provision either for financial assistance to the needy, he noted.
Apart from Drilon, the Senate itself has turned a critical eye on the task force, amid its controversial remarks and activities.
In November 2020, during the Senate hearing on the alleged Red-tagging of members of the Makabayan bloc in the House of Representatives and even of some celebrities, opposition senators said a large chunk of the proposed 2021 budget of P19 billion for the NTF-Elcac could be better spent for victims of Typhoon “Rolly” at that time.
Also around that time, Southern Luzon Command chief Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade Jr., then the spokesperson of the task force, implied in a Facebook post that actress Liza Soberano and 2018 Miss Universe Catriona Gray had been recruited by communist rebels when they communicated with the Gabriela women’s party list group, which the NTF-Elcac had tagged as a communist front.
That post led to a backlash that also prompted the Senate finance committee to look into the budget of the task force.
Sen. Risa Hontiveros had earlier noted that the P19 billion proposed for the task force was much bigger than the budgets for key agencies like the Department of Finance (P17.46 billion), the Office of the Ombudsman (P3.36 billion), the Department of Housing Settlements and Urban Development (P632 million) and even the Department of Budget and Management (P1.9 billion).
Still, the budget sought by the task force for 2021 was granted, even as the Senate panel subsequently called for the relief of Parlade and advised the military to “refrain from publicly vilifying, labeling and imputing guilt by association to the communist [movement the] various institutions and progressive organizations based on false or unverified information.”
Drilon said he supported the decision of the Senate finance panel chair, Sen. Juan Edgardo Angara, to slash the funds for the task force and realign the money to more important projects in agriculture, health, social welfare and public works.
He also criticized the agencies’ utilization of their NTF-Elcac funds, specifically the Philippine National Police.
Senators learned in the course of the budget deliberations that the PNP received more than P1 billion for its anti-insurgency program this year.
“However, when PNP was pressed for details of their utilization of their NTF-Elcac allocation, they could not give a concrete and believable explanation and only cited that they had conducted about 13 million activities in about 10 months,” Drilon said.
—WITH A REPORT FROM INQUIRER RESEARCH
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