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MANILA, Philippines – In an apparent change of heart, House leaders will move to restore the reduced budget of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) in 2023, Ako-Bicol Representative Zaldy Co said.
Co’s office said their decision is in light of the instruction they received from Speaker Martin Romualdez and Senior Deputy Majority Leader Sandro Marcos, but the Makabayan bloc said it was tantamount to wasting taxpayers’ hard-earned money on redtaggers.
The executive branch proposed to Congress a P10-billion budget for NTF-ELCAC for 2023, an increase from the P5.6 billion that the task force received for 2022.
But in October, the House realigned P5 billion from that proposed funding after making institutional amendments, a move that Gabriela called an “initial win.”
Co, who heads the House appropriations committee, explained their decsion. “Congress recognizes the important role the NTF-ELCAC plays to help end the country’s decades-long insurgency. Thus, we will convince our Senate counterparts in the bicameral conference committee to restore the agency’s proposed budget.”
House Deputy Minority Leader France Castro of ACT Teachers insisted that the NTF-ELCAC’s slashed budget should not be fully restored, and instead be realigned to fund supplemental aid for underprivileged Filipinos.
“We debated and scrutinized the budget of NTF-ELCAC, and the whole plenary decided to slash its budget. And now we’re just going to simply set that aside? What are debates and interpellations for?” Castro lamented.
“If the NTF-ELCAC budget is restored, it seems that Congress is rewarding incompetence and red-tagging but did not address the real cause of the armed conflict nor directly aided our long suffering people,” she added.
While the House leadership now seeks to advocate for NTF-ELCAC’s interests in the finalization of the 2023 budget, the task force has a history of not fully utilizing its funds.
In 2021, the NTF-ELCAC only completed 48% of its projects under the Support for Barangay Development Program.
“Our countrymen badly need financial assistance, and yet we will waste funds on NTF-ELCAC, and give them a P10-billion budget?” Castro quipped.
Co acknowledged the task force’s past underutilization of its allotted budget, and called on the NTF-ELCAC to hasten the completion of its projects.
“Based on reports received by my office, only two percent of NTF-ELCAC’s 2022 projects has been completed or ongoing. A whopping 98 percent of the projects are still under the pre-procurement or procurement stage, and it’s already December,” he said.
The NTF-ELCAC, which was formed during the Duterte administration, has gained notoriety for red-baiting progressive groups and critical voices. Human rights groups have called for the task force’s abolition and defunding.
The bicameral conference committee – composed of representatives from the House and the Senate – convened on Friday, November 25, to begin reconciling differences between their respective versions of the proposed 2023 budget. – Rappler.com