Año urges senators not to defund NTF-ELCAC, vows transparency in barangay program

Interior Secretary Eduardo Año on Wednesday, May 5, appealed to senators not to defund the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC), saying this would set back the government's efforts to free villages of communist influence.

Año made the statement on Wednesday in defense of the NTF-ELCAC, which is at the center of massive criticism over its baseless red-baiting of individuals and groups, including community pantries.

Año warned that the government's efforts to “develop” barangays cleared of communist influence since 2019 would suffer a huge setback if lawmakers realign the budget intended for the NTF-ELCAC.

“The government’s efforts in clearing these barangays of communist terrorists will be put to waste if we suddenly leave them hanging now that they have been freed from the clutches of communist terrorist groups,” he said.

"We therefore appeal to our Senators not to deprive these barangays of government support and assistance now that they need us most," Año added.

In late April, some senators said they were considering the removal of the NTF-ELCAC's P19.1-billion budget after its spokesperson, Lieutenant General Antonio Parlade Jr., baselessly red-baited community pantry organizers and likened their work to that of Satan.

Fifteen of the 24 senators, including their leaders, backed an April 27 resolution "censuring" Parlade after he called them "stupid" over their bid to defund NTF-ELCAC.

The statement of the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) on Wednesday was silent on the controversy surrounding Parlade’s continued red-tagging of personalities and groups, focusing instead on the supposed disadvantages of defunding the task force.

Año promised that the DILG will be transparent in its implementation of the P16.44-billion Barangay Development Program (BDP), a key project of the NTF-ELCAC, in which the DILG is a member.

Under the program, villages that have been "cleared cleared of communist influence" get P20 million each in the form of infrastucture..

The DILG said the program will fund infrastructure projects that will seek to “improve conditions of the people living in the remote 822 barangays mostly in mountainous areas that have long been neglected by the government.”

“The very reason that these barangays were misled and influenced by the communist terrorist groups is because the people never felt the presence of government. For the first time, they will get the government attention and assistance that they deserve,” Año said.

A Rappler analysis in February showed that President Rodrigo Duterte's bailiwick, Davao City, and the Davao Region have received the most funds under the BDP.

Critics decried the funding as being akin to giving pork barrel funds to the military men of the NTF-ELCAC, which determine which barangays will get the funds.

Activists have also expressed concerns that the program will result in rampant red-tagging, as local leaders are encouraged to push out dissenters of the administration. – Rappler.com