Budget Watch

Anti-communist task force to ‘play God’ with P16.4-billion dev’t budget – Drilon

Aika Rey

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Anti-communist task force to ‘play God’ with P16.4-billion dev’t budget – Drilon

COMMUNIST. Armed members of the New Peoples Army-Melito Glor Command gather on a clearing in the lower Sierra Madre mountains in Quezon Province, south of Manila, to celebrate the 50th year founding of the Communist Party of the Philippines on December 26, 2018.

Alecs Ongcal/Rappler

'You can imagine the political favors that can be done out of this system,' says Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, alarmed over the anti-communist task force being involved in funds for barangays

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon called out the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) for allocating the proposed P16.4-billion barangay development fund to the anti-communist task force, saying this could be used for political purposes in 2021.

The next national elections will be in 2022, but funds for poll preparations are already included in the 2021 budget.

“Let’s be candid. Next year is an election [budget] year and here is a secretariat who will be playing God to the requests of the barangays. I am being candid with you. I am not new in this bureaucracy,” said Drilon on Wednesday, September 9, the first day of budget deliberations at the Senate.

The development fund is seen to prevent communist armed conflict through agricultural, infrastructure, and livelihood projects, among others, in insurgency-free barangays.

The fund is lodged under the P28.83-billion Local Government Support Fund (LGSF), which has been used in the past years to provide project funding to cities and municipalities, granted that they have the interior department’s seal of good housekeeping.

Next year, more than half of the LGSF would go to the barangay development program of the National Task Force on Ending Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC).

“I call a spade a spade. You have an agency, not a regular line agency, just somebody who will be approving and disapproving barangay requests for funding. You can imagine the political favors that can be done out of this system, when in fact, there are regular agencies that can do it,” added Drilon.

In his defense, Budget Secretary Wendel Avisado told the panel that the NTF-ELCAC is only the repository of the projects and that the fund would be directly disbursed to local government units (LGUs).

“We act on what we are mandated to do. This is pursuant to Executive Order [No. 70] of the President. What we’re looking here is precisely just to make sure that the intent and purpose of the EO is followed,” he said.

Avisado also cited the Mandanas ruling on higher internal revenue allotment for LGUs – a decision that economic managers themselves previously warned would cause an unmanageable fiscal deficit if carried out sooner. The ruling will not take effect until 2022.

“The funds do not pass by the NTF-ELCAC. The funds for the program and projects are released directly to the LGUs as part of the capacity building. In line also with the mandate of the Supreme Court, the Mandanas decision,” the budget chief said.

But what Avisado failed to mention was that the anti-communist task force would approve which barangays will be eligible to apply for the fund.

Rappler reported that the barangays must first secure a certification from the NTF-ELCAC that they are cleared of insurgency, based on the criteria that the task force will set.

Despite the discretion, retired generals in the Cabinet dismissed concerns that the fund would be used for political purposes.

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Higher than labor, tourism budgets

Drilon also raised why the controversial fund is even higher than the labor and tourism budgets.

The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) has a proposed allocation worth P15.58 billion for next year, excluding its attached agencies, while the Department of Tourism has a P3.79-billion allocation.

Drilon also cited the proposed budget for the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration which is at P7.4 billion.

“Are we saying that communist insurgency is a bigger threat than our unemployment, than our poverty situation?” asked the Senate minority leader.

Avisado again cited Duterte’s EO as basis. “For the first time, the people in barangays would know that the government has intention to really clear them from the clutches of all these problems…from the last 50 years or so. [And they] can find fulfillment in these projects and no longer go back to where they have come from,” he said.

In a House budget hearing on Wednesday, DOLE said it requested for a P72-billion budget. Of that, at least P61 billion would go to the Office of the Secretary while the rest would be for attached agencies.

Yet the DBM only approved P27 billion for the entire department and its attached agencies, slashing the proposed programs on barangay emergency employment, wage subsidy to formal and informal sectors, and aid to nurses in rural areas. – Rappler.com

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Aika Rey

Aika Rey is a business reporter for Rappler. She covered the Senate of the Philippines before fully diving into numbers and companies. Got tips? Find her on Twitter at @reyaika or shoot her an email at aika.rey@rappler.com.