Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte kicked off a series of visits all over the country to award development projects to barangays deemed “cleared” of “communist influence” on Friday, March 5 in Cagayan de Oro City.
At a ceremony at the University of Science and Technology of Southern Philippines (USTP) Gymnasium, Duterte met with the barangay captains of 119 barangays in Region X or Northern Mindanao that have supposedly been purged of the communist New People’s Army.
Joined by National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr, Duterte led the large gathering where a slew of projects funded by the President’s anti-communist task force were presented.
The task force is formally known as the National Task Force Ending Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC), created by Duterte’s Executive Order No 70. Duterte himself chairs the task force while Esperon is its vice chairperson.
All 119 barangays are set to receive P20 million worth of projects each, a reward for weeding out communist rebels in their areas of jurisdiction. The initiative is officially known as the Barangay Development Program, which Esperon described as a “flagship program” of the NTF-ELCAC.
The NTF-ELCAC-funded projects per barangay are the following, based on a National Security Council press release:
- P12 million – farm to market roads
- P3 million – school buildings
- P2 million – water and sanitation systems
- P1.5 million – skills and livelihood training
- P1.5 million – health stations
Esperon, in his speech, said the various government agencies in charge of the projects should be ready to start implementing them on March 15.
According to the budget department’s Local Budget Circular No 135, Northern Mindanao is the No. 3 top region to get the biggest portion of NTF-ELCAC’s Barangay Development Program funds. Ahead of it are Davao region, Duterte’s home region, and Caraga. Northern Mindanao will get P2.38 billion out of the total program budget of P16.4 billion.
Bukidnon, a Northern Mindanao province, is the province with the second highest number of communist-cleared barangays, after Davao del Sur.
‘You’re fooling the poor’
Duterte’s speech in front of the barangay officials was dominated by an curse-laden rant against communist rebels.
“You fool the poor people working in the fields… You are always extorting, you sons of bitches,” said Duterte in Bisaya.
A longtime mayor who has had to deal with communist rebels himself, Duterte said no anti-communism plan can work without improving the quality of life of people in rural areas whose grievances could be used to turn them against government.
“Barangays are a hot bed of communism. They can’t infiltrate the urban areas because the people in urban areas are okay. They have jobs, they have income, they have businesses,” said the President.
Tour right before 2022 elections
The Cagayan de Oro event is the first of many regional visits Duterte will be making throughout the year, a year that precedes the 2022 national elections.
According to Esperon, Duterte will next visit Region VIII or Eastern Visayas and Region IV-A or Calabarzon in the next weeks of March. Presidential visits to other regions will follow.
“The President intends to visit each region in the country on a weekly basis for consultations and dialogues as well as to grace the regional implemetation of the Barangay Development Program,” Esperon said in a statement.
The meetings with barangay officials are supposed to allow Duterte to “provide immediate policy guidance” on “uplifting the conditions of the people” in villages hosting communist rebels.
A total of 822 barangays nationwide are set to receive BDP projects for clearing their areas of communists from 2016 to 2019.
“Mr President, under your direction, we will continue to fight the terrorist in the frontlines, in the mountains, in the media platforms, in the public minds, in the international scene and in the courts,” said Esperon on Friday.
The NTF-ELCAC’s P16.4 billion fund for barangays has been flagged by critics as discretionary funds tantamount to “pork barrel” for generals in Duterte’s Cabinet.
Lawmakers from progressive groups warn that the NTF-ELCAC is abusing its mandate by baselessly red-tagging critics of the government, yet another blow to freedom of expression under the Duterte presidency. – Rappler.com