As NTF-ELCAC sits on billions, its P8M spend in 2019 still under audit

With threats to defund the controversial National Task Force to End Local Communist Insurgency (NTF-ELCAC), questions have been raised about how it has been spending taxpayers' money and whether auditors could keep track of it.

The 2018 and 2019 audit reports and financial statements of the task force's member-agencies do not mention anything specific to NTF-ELCAC or anti-communist programs. Yet, the task force budget is coursed through these agencies.

Take for example the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), which is a key implementor of the anti-insurgency task force's barangay-level projects.

Asked by Rappler for any NTF-ELCAC funds tracked by auditors, the Commission on Audit (COA) said in an email that they identified a P16- million release to the DILG in 2019.

But the audit for that is still ongoing.

"For 2019, the amount of P16,281,502 was released to DILG and the amount obligated was only P6,088,108.60, including what was sub-allotted to regional office amounting to P648,000. The audit is still ongoing for said obligated amount," COA told Rappler.

DILG Undersecretary and spokesperson Jonathan Malaya confirmed the P16 million release in 2019, but cited a different figure for the obligated amount that was committed to NTF-ELCAC. Obligated in this case means funds committed for payment.

"P8,336,528.79 was obligated leaving a Balance as of Dec. 31, 2020 in the amount of P7,943,973.21 or 51% utilization," Malaya told Rappler in a text message.

Malaya said that the entire P16 million was released to the DILG in the form of a  Special Allotment Release Order (SARO) dated October 9, 2019. "Chargeable against the contingent fund to cover the funding requirements for various program/activities pursuant to the approval of the Office of the President dated September 20, 2019," said Malaya.

Malaya said P8 million was obligated to "support the NTF-ELCAC." Here is a breakdown of the programs funded by the P8 million, as provided by Malaya:

  • Peace and development cluster/localized peace engagement cluster/international engagement cluster
  • Situational awareness and knowledge management cluster and strategic communication cluster
  • Support to national task force inter-agency engagement
  • Operational and administrative expenses of the comprehensive social benefits program
  • Operational and administrative expenses of the preventing and countering violent extremism program

The balance of P7.9 million from the P16-million total "was automatically reverted to the National Treasury at year end" of 2020, said Malaya.

There is no released 2020 audit report yet for the DILG.

Several senators and House leaders have threatened to defund the NTF-ELCAC after its spokespersons red-tagged community pantries.

For 2021, the NTF-ELCAC has P16.4 billion to its disposal, with Davao region getting the biggest cut at P4.3 billion. Davao City, President Rodrigo Duterte's hometown will receive P1.64 billion on its own.

Opposition senator Franklin Drilon questioned the P16.4 billion during last year's budget hearing, saying it could be used for political purposes, with the task force able to "play god" with the money.

During last year's budget hearings at the House of Representatives, COA chairman Michael Aguinaldo admitted it's difficult to track the NTF-ELCAC funds, similar to as how it's hard to track intelligence funds in general.

P1 billion to the AFP

As it also turns out, P1 billion in NTF-ELCAC funds were released to the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) in 2019 "but such was in the form of Intelligence and Confidential Fund," said COA.

"A Credit Notice was already issued on said fund by the Intelligence and Confidential Fund Audit Office," said COA.

A credit notice means a clearance by COA, a notice for properly liquidated intelligence and confidential funds.

This allotment was also not cited in the 2019 audit report of the AFP, but the military's financial statements in 2019 show that they had P2.5 billion in confidential, intelligence and extraordinary expenses that year. It indicates that the NTF-ELCAC allotment accounted for half.

Special audit?

COA said that NTF-ELCAC funds are released as regular funds to the agency members, such as the DILG, AFP, Philippine National Police (PNP), Department of National Defense (DND) and Department of Justice (DOJ). 

They are under the audit jurisdiction of the  National Government Sector (NGS) - Cluster 4 for Defense and Security. They do the regular compliance audits for each agencies per year.

All the 2019 audit reports of such agencies did not mention NTF-ELCAC.

"It  should be emphasized however that such funds are also released as intelligence and confidential funds and are therefore audited by the Intelligence and Confidential Fund Audit Office of the Commission," said COA.

Aguinaldo told the House last year they were still looking whether there's a need for special audit for the NTF-ELCAC. 

In the past, COA did special audits on the anomalous pork barrel and fertilizer funds.

COA told Rappler that there's no certainty yet "if there's going to be a special audit."

COA explained in the email to Rappler: "Checking the disbursement vouchers is only one of the audit procedures that the auditor undertakes in the audit of expenditures. There are other procedures that the auditor makes, which are equally important to determine whether or not the expenditures are irregular, unnecessary, excessive, extravagant or unconscionable.

COA has begun releasing 2020 audit reports on government agencies, but none on the NTF-ELCAC member-agencies so far. – Rappler.com

Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email lian.buan@rappler.com or tweet @lianbuan.

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