MANILA - Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon on Tuesday said some P7.54 billion of the anti-insurgency council's fund was released last month as it faced backlash for its officials' red-tagging remarks against community pantries.
Around P10.68 billion of the P19 billion budget of the National Task Force to End Local Communism and Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) has been released as of April, according to the senator.
"Bakit po parang nagmadaling ilabas ang budget? Bakit yung pondo sa Marawi rehabilitation mabagal ang paglabas ng pondo? Saan po gagamitin itong P10.68 bilyon?” he said in a statement.
(Why does it seem like the budget was released hastily? Why was the Marawi rehabilitation fund released slowly? Where would they use this P10.68 billion?)
Several senators earlier proposed to defund the NTF-ELCAC's budget to COVID-19 response.
Last year, the Senate Minority bloc urged the chamber to realign the NTF-ELCAC's budget to typhoon and pandemic aid, but was outvoted by the majority.
The Makabayan bloc led by Gabriela Rep. Arlene Brosas has asked the House Committee on Public Accounts to conduct an inquiry in aid of legislation on the P19-billion budget of the NTF-ELCAC, citing questionable Special Allotment Release Orders issued by the Department of Budget and Management for the NTF-ELCAC’s Support to Barangay Development Program.
The bloc noted that NTF-ELCAC’s P19-billion budget is higher than the P2.5 billion allotted for COVID-19 vaccine procurement and distribution in the 2021 budget.
“NTF-ELCAC’s P19 billion budget for 2021 is roughly four times of the P5.6 billion 2021 budget of the Department of Trade and Industry which is in-charge of providing various forms of assistance to troubled micro, small and medium scale enterprises and 21 times that of the Office of the Vice President FY 2021 budget worth P 900 million," they said in the resolution.
The bloc also pointed out that P2.6 billion in the NTF-ELCAC budget has been dispersed in several agencies without any definite project breakdown.
However, P16.44 billion are appropriated under the Local Government Support Fund Support to Barangay Development Program which is a discretionary special purpose fund.
The resolution flagged 14 SAROs worth a grand total of P9.6 billion that were released from March 24, 2021 to April 23, 2021.
“No single centavo must be spent on a task force that has openly maligned and red tagged members of the House of Representatives, celebrities, ordinary citizens and even organizers of community pantries," the group said.
In a press release, Brosas claimed that the NTF-ELCAC is reviving the controversial pork barrel system through the SBDP.
Citing the same data from the DBM website, Brosas said that SAROs worth P9.66 billion have been released to the program for unspecified projects, which would be implemented by the provincial government, or national government agencies including the AFP Engineer Brigade.
"Instead of asking community pantry organizers to provide an accounting of how donations were spent, the red-tagging task force must provide details on how the P9.66-billion in SAROs are intended to be used, especially as the amounts are highly questionable," Brosas said.
“We fear that funds for the SBDP will be prone to corruption, patronage, and abuse in relation to intensified red-tagging, especially as the 2022 elections are approaching. We reiterate our call to rechannel the P19-billion budget of the task force to sufficient emergency cash aid,” she added.
In his press statement, Drilon said defeating the coronavirus and addressing the effects of the pandemic such as unemployment and hunger should be prioritized.
"There are 62 percent Filipino households who experienced hunger due to COVID-19 pandemic. There are 4.4 million Filipinos who lost jobs in 2020. Yet, the government is giving priority to NTF-ELCAC’s anti-insurgency program rather than use the funds to expand ayuda, buy vaccines and feed the poor."
Drilon said the Senate should scrutinize the use of NTF-ELCAC’s funds and compel the task force to submit a report to Congress.
“Saan po ba napunta ang P10.68 billion? Anong barangay? Anong siyudad o bayan ang nakinabang dito? In the spirit of transparency, let us publish the data and inform the public,” he said.
(Where did the P10.68 billion go? What barangay, city or town benefitted?)