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MANILA, Philippines – The chairman of the House appropriations committee stood by the decision of congressional leaders to put back the funds initially slashed from the Department of Education (DepEd) and the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC), arguing that such agencies need the money to beef up anti-insurgency efforts.
In a statement, Ako Bicol Representative Zaldy Co said reversing the House’s initial decision to realign P120 million from the P150 million sought by DepEd for intelligence and confidential funds was meant to “save the future of our children.”
“Our young students should be taught early in life about the perils of joining illegal organizations whose aim is to overthrow the duly-constituted government,” Co said in a statement.
In a House hearing in September, Vice President Sara Duterte said the confidential funds would be used for surveillance, citing issues such as “sexual grooming of learners, recruitment in terrorism and violent extremism, and drug use of DepEd personnel.”
House Assistant Minority Leader Arlene Brosas of Gabriela, however, asserted that intelligence funds were not a requirement for the Duterte-led agency to perform its duties.
“The rising number of out-of-school youth, classroom backlogs, and insufficient benefits for teachers are the issues that DepEd must prioritize instead of allocating P150 million confidential and intelligence fund to conduct a crackdown on critical students in the guise of counterinsurgency,” Brosas said.
Progressive groups have flagged red-tagging in schools, saying students and teachers’ civil and democratic rights were being violated.
NTF-ELCAC’s work ‘appreciated’
Co also said that NTF-ELCAC’s “indispensable role” to end insurgency in rural communities was “appreciated,” hence the decision to fully restore its budget.
In October, the House realigned P5 billion from the proposed P10 billion in funding for NTF-ELCAC in 2023 after making institutional amendments.
“Many of those in cities and urban areas do not appreciate efforts to end the insurgency. But those in the countryside are sick and tired of oppressive revolutionary taxes, destruction of infrastructure, power lines, and cell towers,” Co said.
The move comes even as the task force has a history of underutilizing funds. In 2021, the NTF-ELCAC only completed 48% of its projects under the Support for Barangay Development Program.
“We agreed to restore the budget, but we instructed the agency to be more efficient. We want them to utilize the funds,” Co added.
House Deputy Minority Leader France Castro of ACT Teachers insisted that her fellow lawmakers’ priorities were misplaced., amid the rising prices of goods.
“The government should not have funds for oppressive policies like that of the NTF-ELCAC,” she said. “The priority should be funds for supplemental aid and higher salary and benefits for our countrymen.”
On Monday morning, December 5, the bicameral conference committee – led by Co and Senate finance chairperson Sonny Angara – finished reconciling differences in versions of the proposed budget that they separately approved in October and November.
The report that the panel generated was also approved by both chambers of Congress separately on Monday night.
Castro decried what she described as hasty approval of the bicameral conference committee report.
“The bicameral budget is detestable because it disregarded the plenary approved budget of both Houses of Congress and just followed the dictates of Malacañang,” she said.
Senator Risa Hontiveros – a member of the upper chamber’s delegation to the bicameral conference committee – earlier disclosed that she voted against the final version of the budget, saying the legislative branch “missed an opportunity to show its independence.” – Rappler.com