In its remaining months in office, President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration asked Congress a P28.1 billion budget to fund its anti-insurgency machinery, the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) in 2022.
This P28.1 billion request for 2022 is P11.66 billion more than the P16.4 billion NTF-ELCAC received in 2021.
For 2022, the Duterte government submitted to Congress a National Expenditure Program (NEP) or a proposed budget of P5.024 trillion.
The NEP is the executive branch’s proposed budget that would be assessed by both the House of Representatives and the Senate. After going over the proposed budget, the two houses of Congress would create a bill to endorse the national budget, which would later be signed into law by the president.
On top of the P28.1 billion proposed budget for the task force, another P1,084,433,000 anti-insurgency funds were itemized under the Philippine National Police's (PNP) proposed budget.
Aside from the PNP, additional ELCAC funds amounting to P1.19 billion pesos was requested under the Department of the Interior and Local Government budget. Meanwhile, P480 million was requested under the Department of Agrarian Reform, while P350 million under the Department of Social Welfare and Development.
Duterte’s Executive Order No. 70, which was signed in 2018, created the NTF-ELCAC. The main purpose of the task force is to lead the elimination of decades-long insurgency in the country.
But, the government's anti-insurgency task force has gained the notoriety of red-tagging activists and personalities critical of the Duterte administration. In early 2021, the Senate passed a resolution recommending the removal of then NTF-ELCAC spokesperson retired Lieutenant General Antonio Parlade from the task force.
Among those red-tagged by the task force were the organizers of community pantries, informal groups which at the height of the pandemic volunteered to feed indigent Filipinos. The NTF-ELCAC admitted that it profiled the organizers to check if they had “links” with rebel groups.
Senator Joel Villanueva said the NTF-ELCAC’s budget was just going to waste due to Parlade’s red-tagging. Senator Nancy Binay also said it’s “high time” to review the task force’s budget.
In 2021, the NTF-ELCAC released a total of P16.24 billion to 812 so-called communist-free barangays. The amount served as an incentive for barangays that were allegedly cleared of communist terrorist groups.
Both the Davao Region and Davao City, home of President Rodrigo Duterte, got a lion’s share of the billions. Davao Region was allotted P4.3 billion, while Davao City was allocated P1.64 billion.
In a statement on Monday, August 23, Bayan Muna Representative Carlos Isagani Zarate called Duterte’s proposed budget for NTF-ELCAC as “additional pork barrel for the generals.” Zarate added that the 2022 budget is designed to keep Duterte’s allies in power.
“As it is, the 2022 budget is designed to keep Duterte allies in power after the elections. This unprecedented gargantuan budget must be thoroughly scrutinized, not just because it is taxpayers' money, but because the future and survival of our country are at stake here,” Zarate said.
Opposition senator and minority leader Franklin Drilon earlier warned that the NTF-ELCAC’s budget could serve as an "election giveaway” since the presidential election will be held next year. – Rappler.com