PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte’s administration is pushing for a P28.1 billion budget to fund the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) in 2022. Before he was eventually swept out of office, the agency’s spokesperson Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade Jr. had at one time on national TV compared community pantry activism as works of Satan. His agency’s 2021 budget was P16.4 billion. The P11.66 billion addition for 2022 will probably be used for intensive exorcism.
Parlade, at the time the community pantries became pervasive, admitted to profiling their initiators. That, while the agency had publicized posters on their social media accounts that red-tagged individuals who have been active in creating their community help programs.
The Duterte administration has submitted to Congress its National Expenditure Program (NEP) budget of P5.024 trillion. The proposal will then be assessed by the two houses of Congress, which will then create a bill to endorse it. The President will then sign it into law.
The NTF-ELCAC, however, had not been chummy with legislators for sometime now. It has the Makabayan bloc to contend with in the Lower House, and a good number of senators who have been vocal in calling for a defunding of the agency.
In April, at the height of Parlade’s devil-tagging, Senators Joel Villanueva, Sherwin Gathalian and Nancy Binay joined the opposition senators in criticizing the NTF-ELCAC. The call crossed party lines, and joining them were also Senators Ralph Recto, Grace Poe, Leila de Lima, Francis Pangilinan and Risa Hontiveros. Sen. Panfilo Lacson also expressed remorse for championing the agency’s P16.5 billion 2021 budget. “Sa susunod na budget hearing at plenary debates, hindi ko na alam kung nararapat pang irekomenda sa finance committee and anumang condo ng NTF-ELCAC,” Lacson said.
The common call was a review of how funds were spent. Some want a recall of the budget to realign it for pandemic response.
The proposed budget needs to hurdle the suspicion that it will be used as a campaign kitty in the 2022 elections. “We should be more vigilant. The 2022 budget is an election budget. We must not allow the budget to be used for election or partisan political activities,” said Sen. Drilon, who wants the Commission on Audit on this year to do a special audit of NTF-ELCAC funds.
In the 2021 budget, it was found that Davao Region and Davao City, home of the President, received the lion’s share—with Davao Region getting P4.3 billion and Davao City, P1.64 billion. On the other hand, the NTF-ELCAC also said it released a total of P16.24 billion to 812 barangays declared as “communist-free” as incentive.
The NTF-ELCAC carries all these baggages as it pushes for a higher budget, but as Drilon said, senators in his league will fight it “tooth and nail.”