Hontiveros: Reallocate portion of 2021 NTF-ELCAC budget to typhoon rehab

Senator Risa Hontiveros has urged the government to reallocate a portion of the P19-billion proposed budget of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) for disaster recovery, especially following the devastation caused by Super Typhoon Rolly in parts of the country.

The senator made the call at the Senate defense panel probe into the government's red-tagging practices on Tuesday, November 3, where she pointed out that the proposed 2021 NTF-ELCAC budget is bigger than that of of other key agencies like the housing department and the Office of the Ombudsman.

"We are holding this hearing on the heels of the strongest typhoon in the world for 2020. This directly hit Bicol Region, which is one of the regions identified to have a communist insurgency problem," Hontiveros said.

"Let me say this now, that the P16 billion budget for NTF-ELCAC barangay development program, I will call for a portion of it to be allocated for typhoon rehabilitation," she added. (READ: Health workers: Use P19-B NTF-ELCAC budget to fund cash-strapped public hospitals)

Hontiveros also reiterated her proposal for P8 billion of the NTF-ELCAC budget to be reallocated for public health.

Of the P19-billion proposed budget, P16.4 billion is proposed to be for the NTF-ELCAC's local government development program. Under this program, P20 million will be given barangays that are deemed free of communist rebels.

Critics have slammed the proposal as "generals' pork" as the funds would incentivize local governments to comply with the mission of the military to eradicate communists.

The Alliance of Health Workers (AHW) earlier urged lawmakers to defund the NTF-ELCAC and instead reallocate its budget to 66 public hospitals under the Department of Health (DOH) to help in the COVID-19 pandemic response.

How's the budget?

President Rodrigo Duterte already certified as urgent the 2021 General Appropriations Bill (GAB), waiving the mandatory 3-day interval between a bill's 2nd and 3rd readings.

The House of Representatives transmitted a copy of the 2021 GAB to the Senate on Tuesday, October 27. This will now allow senators to focus on their job to scrutinize the proposed expenditure program for next year.

The Senate committee on finance kicked off its budget hearings weeks ago. With Congress set to resume session on November 9, Senate President Vicente "Tito" Sotto III earlier said the 2021 GAB can be sponsored in the plenary for marathon deliberations from November 11 to 17.

Should the Senate successfully pass the 2021 budget on 3rd and final reading by November 24 – the goal of Sotto – both houses of Congress can then convene the bicameral conference committee.

The bicam is tasked to thresh out conflicting provisions of the House and Senate measures, including the GAB. – Rappler.com

Rambo Talabong

Rambo Talabong covers the House of Representatives and local governments for Rappler. Prior to this, he covered security and crime. He was named Jaime V. Ongpin Fellow in 2019 for his reporting on President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs. In 2021, he was selected as a journalism fellow by the Fellowships at Auschwitz for the Study of Professional Ethics.