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Out of over 2,000 projects spearheaded by President Rodrigo Duterte’s controversial anti-insurgency task force, only 26 of them were completed.
This is according to a letter submitted on Monday, November 8, by the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) to the Senate finance committee.
At the plenary debates for the P5.024-trillion national budget bill for 2022, Senator Ronald dela Rosa asked Senator Sonny Angara, sponsor of the bill and Senate finance panel chair, why the NTF-ELCAC budget for social welfare programs was slashed by P24 billion.
Dela Rosa, as he did in previous year’s budget hearings and plenary debates, defended the NTF-ELCAC and the need for social welfare programs in making his case.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III interjected, saying that the better question, instead of asking why it was slashed, is how the fund was spent. NTF-ELCAC’s Barangay Development Program has a P16.4 billion budget in 2021.
“The reasons for NTF-ELCAC are given already. That’s why we approved that. The point now is how it was spent, how it was executed,” said Sotto.
According to Angara, only 26 out 2,318 projects were completed and the rest are in various stages of completion:
- Over 900 projects in pre-procurement stage
- Over 700 in procurement stage
- Some 560 ongoing projects
Angara explained to Dela Rosa that the Senate finance committee only received NTF-ELCAC’s letter when they were already routing for senators’ signatures the committee report for the appropriations bill.
He also said that the committee had to slash the budgets of other agencies in order to allocate some P51 billion to fund the pandemic war chest, specifically for the compensation of health workers and the COVID-19 booster shots.
“In fact, we even left around P4 billion [for NTF-ELCAC] without knowing. This is a blind allocation because there was no report for us,” said Angara in a mix of English and Filipino.
COVID or anti-insurgency?
Dela Rosa argued that if NTF-ELCAC was not performing and its budget gets cut, then other agencies should have experienced the same.
In response, Angara said: “Actually, that’s what we have been doing, your Honor. When the [budget] utilization rate is low, when the obligation rate is low, we really cut their budgets.”
Dela Rosa tried to push his point: “Where the road ends, insurgency begins. Kung gagawing rason ang COVID, tingin ko hindi gano’n kabigat na rason ‘yan dahil itong mga barangay na ‘to, karamihan dito ay COVID-free.… In the spirit of social justice, let us give what this community needs. ‘Di natin sila kailangan bigyan ng COVID response program eh wala namang COVID doon,” said Dela Rosa.
(If we will use COVID as an excuse, I don’t think that is a very good excuse because these barangays, many of these are COVID-free.… In the spirit of social justice, let us give what this community needs. We don’t need to give them a COVID response program when there is no COVID there.)
Angara said that he believed the principle behind the anti-insurgency program was good, but added that: “Even the best programs on paper must be justified by good implementation. That’s the point that we are making here.”
The police chief-turned-senator also tried to “allay fears” that the NTF-ELCAC fund would be used as an election giveaway by the administration bets in the 2022 polls. Dela Rosa has filed his candidacy for president under the faction led by Duterte.
“Nanalo ako bilang isang senador. Ni piso wala akong natanggap sa Malacañang. (I won as a senator. Not even a peso, I did not receive anything),” Dela Rosa said.
Sotto replied: “Of course, that is contrary to what the newspapers said.”
Dela Rosa asked if the committee would be amenable to introduce institutional amendments for the anti-insurgency fund. Angara answered in the affirmative.
While the Senate panel slashed the NTF-ELCAC fund, it remained to be seen what would be the approved amount when the general appropriations bill is sent for Duterte’s signature.
After the Senate approves the budget on final reading, the two chambers will still have to meet for the bicameral conference committee to iron out the differences between the two versions. – Rappler.com