Ecumenical leaders urged Congress to defund the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC), and not just slash its 2022 budget.
The Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform (PEPP) said on Thursday, November 11, that even the slashed P4-billion budget for 2022 of the NTF-ELCAC was a hefty amount “for sowing hatred and violence instead of a culture of dialogue and peace to resolve the more than five decades of insurgency in the country.”
Cagayan de Oro Archbishop Emeritus Antonio Ledesma, co-chairperson of PEPP, said the government should use the P4 billion instead to provide for the basic needs of the Filipinos amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Senate finance committee has slashed by P24 billion the proposed 2022 budget of the task force that would be diverted to fund the health workers’ COVID-19 benefits.
Ledesma said transparency on how the task force spent its funds has become an issue as the Commission on Audit (COA) admitted difficulty in auditing its spendings.
He said NTF-ELCAC itself has become a hindrance to peace because “it is now the critical weapon in the total war against the so-called terrorists,” relying on violent means that heightened violations in human rights and international humanitarian law.
“We are witnesses to the results of this total war strategy of the government as seen in the numerous killings, threats, harassment and bombing and restriction of movements of farming and indigenous communities in remote rural areas as in the recent case of aerial bombing in the Bukidnon hinterlands,” Ledesma said.
The task force, he said, has been notorious for its rampant red-tagging, vilification of church leaders and members, and the pulling out of printed agreements related to peace from several state university libraries.
“Based on our faith in our Lord, Jesus Christ, the PEPP believes that violence breeds injustice, which results in unpeace. This complicated conflict will not be solved by an all-out war, not even a counter-insurgency program with billions of budget if the government does not address the root causes that fan its flames,” he said.
Ledesma said principled peace negotiations require much fewer funds and are less costly to lives and would mean more funds for the people mired now in hunger and poverty because of this pandemic.
Bukidnon province alone is a recipient of NTF-ELCAC’s funds amounting to P1.4 billion for projects through the Local Government Support Fund-Support to Barangay Development Program (LGSF-SBDP).
Lawyer Jay Albarece, former Bukidnon provincial administrator who was privy to the projects’ bidding process, said 71 remote barangays in seven municipalities in Bukidnon received P20 million each, mostly for the construction of roads, water systems, and classrooms.
Albarece stepped down from his post when he filed his certificate of candidacy for councilor in Manolo Fortich, Bukidnon.
In the early part of September until last month, groundbreaking ceremonies of the projects in several Bukidnon barangays were held and attended by representatives of the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG), municipal officials, and the military.
Albarece said the construction of the projects would be completed in April 2022, before the national elections in May.
“We cannot say no to these projects. Imagine, each barangay has P20 million and if these barangays rely on their internal revenue allotment, they couldn’t possibly afford to implement huge projects like what they have now. Most of these barangays have lumad communities,” said Albarece. – Rappler.com
Grace Cantal-Albasin is a Mindanao-based journalist and awardee of Aries Rufo Journalism Fellowship