Palace opposes 'unjustified' defunding of task force red-tagging community pantries

Jamaine Punzalan, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Apr 22 2021 03:58 PM | Updated as of Apr 22 2021 04:33 PM

But Roque reiterates admin's support to charity effort despite NTF-ELCAC's allegations

Palace opposes 'unjustified' defunding of task force red-tagging community pantries 1
People line up at a community pantry facilitated by tricycle drivers at their terminal along Maharlika Street in Quezon City on April 20, 2021. Facilitators said the line lengthened with the temporary closure of the Maginhawa Community Pantry, after irs organizer Ana Patricia Non claimed experiencing alleged profiling efforts by the PNP and red-tagging by the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC). Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News

 MANILA — Malacañang on Thursday opposed calls to defund the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) for its supposed red-tagging of community pantries offering food and essentials to Filipinos struggling during the COVID-19 pandemic.

At least 4 senators have raised the option of defunding NTF-ELCAC after its spokesman Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade linked community pantries to the communist movement. 

"Iyong pondo ng ELCAC ay para po sa mga proyekto na magbibigay ng asenso at progreso sa mga lugar na meron pang rebelde. Sa akin, hindi naman po justified 'yan," Palace spokesman Harry Roque said of the lawmakers' proposal. 

"Hayaan nating gawin nila ang katungkulan nila kung meron talaga silang opisyal na ginagawa d'yan," Roque told a news briefing. 

(The fund of ELCAC is for projects that will give improvement and progress to areas that still have rebels. To me, that is not justified. Let us allow them to do their role if they are doing something official there.)

Despite the task force's allegations, President Rodrigo Duterte supports the charity effort, said Roque.

"Hindi nagbabago ang paninindigan ng ating Presidente. Lahat po ng makakatulong sa mahihirap sa panahon ng pandemya, welcome po ‘yan. Ang atin po, bayanihan, hindi bangayan," he said. 

"Ang general policy natin, we welcome community pantries." 

(The stand of the President remains unchanged. Everything that can help the poor during the pandemic is welcome. Our general policy is, we welcome community pantries.)

Roque said he and Interior Secretary Eduardo Año might talk to Defense Secretary Lorenzana, to whom Parlade reports, regarding the latter's recent statements.

"Hindi naman po sikreto na may mga pagkakataon na pinagsabihan na ni Secretary Lorenzana na mag-ingat-ingat nang kaunti si Gen. Parlade sa kaniyang mga deklarasyon," he said. 

(It's not a secret that there are instances when Secretary Lorenzana told Gen. Parlade to be careful with his declarations.)

In a statement, Lorenzana said the Department of National Defense "appreciates and supports the initiative of these community pantries."

"Kindness is everyone's color. Kahit ano pa ang paniniwala niya, basta taos pusong tumutulong, susuportahan natin," the defense chief said.

(We support those sincerely giving help, no matter what their beliefs or leanings are.)

He said his agency is prepared to assist local government units and the Department of the Interior and Local Government, if necessary, in deploying the military's mobile kitchen. 

Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff Gen. Cirilito Sobejana said Thursday that he had already called the attention of Parlade regarding the issue.

While he refused to comment on Parlade's remarks, the military chief said "all humanitarian efforts are being supported by us, especially during this time."

"As a matter of fact, I already directed my J7 (Civil Military Operations Office) to issue a directive to all our units to organize themselves... and support this kind of undertakings," Sobejana told reporters.

The red-tagging of Ana Patricia Non, the organizer of the Maginhawa community pantry in Quezon City, forced the temporary closure on Tuesday of the stall as she feared for her safety.

On Wednesday, Senators Joel Villanueva and Sherwin Gatchalian said the NTF-ELCAC's P19 billion fund should be reallocated to assist people during the pandemic, after Parlade likened Non's charity efforts to "Satan giving apple to Eve."

"If these are the kind of people who will spend hard earned taxpayer's money, then it's not worth it," said Gatchalian.

Earlier that day, Parlade denied that authorities profiled organizers of community pantries, saying, "We’re just checking kung ano ang ginagawa, anong sitwasyon sa community pantries na ito kasi hindi naman lahat ng community pantries ay initiated by one group or one individual."

Malacañang earlier rejected claims that government incompetence and lack of aid spawned the establishment of community pantries. 

Watch more on iWantTFC