MANILA - Senators on Thursday slammed the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) after a Commission on Audit (COA) report showed that the panel only spent 12 percent of its P722.95 million funding in 2020 while the national government still sought billions in anti-insurgency funds.
The national government does "not need to give a single centavo to the NTF-ELCAC for 2022," said Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, who opposed hiking the fund of the NTF-ELCAC in previous budget deliberations.
"The COA finding is proof that the government did not need the P19.2 billion anti-insurgency fund lodged under the NTF-ELCAC this year," Drilon said in a statement.
"We have more than sufficient funds to counter insurgency, millions of which remained untouched, unobligated and unspent," he said.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III said the Senate needs to "find out" why the entire fund was unutilized.
"There is an obvious flaw somewhere.. we will find out," he said.
The Senate Committee on Finance "will ask all the agencies tasked to implement the program to account for the funds appropriated by Congress and released to them," said Sen. Sonny Angara, who heads the panel.
"We owe this to the people and we should be guided in our future actions relating to the budget," he said.
The NTF-ELCAC only spent P86.57 million of its P722.95 million fund in 2020, the Commission on Audit (COA) said in a report.
The panel has a balance of P482.15 million as only P240.8 million was obligated, according to the COA's findings.
The COA flagged the Philippine National Police (PNP) for the slow disbursement of funds meant to support anti-communist insurgency projects.
PNP chief Gen. Guillermo Eleazar said the "unused budget allotted for anti-communist insurgency programs are intact."
"[It] will be wisely used for the welfare of the Filipino, especially in far-flung areas with the presence of communist rebels," he said. in a statement.
Eleazar said there was a delay in the release of funds due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Hindi kapabayaan at lalong hindi anomalya ang dahilan kung bakit hindi masyadong nagastos ang inilaang NTF-ELCAC Fund para sa PNP noong 2020," he said.
(The reason why NTF-ELCAC funds for the PNP were not used in 2020 is neither neglect or anomaly.)
The Department of Budget and Management (DBM) has already advised the PNP that the NTF-ELCAC Fund is considered as a "continuing appropriation," Eleazar said.
This means that the PNP may use the fund until December 31, 2021.
"We have acknowledged these findings. We will treat these as lessons learned upang hindi na rin maulit sa mga susunod na budget allocation and utilization (so that we do not repeat these in succeeding budget allocations and utilization)," Eleazar said.
"We want to assure not just the COA but the general public that we are transparent on how funds being allocated to the organization are being utilized and that expenses are well-accounted [for]," he said.
Last year, several lawmakers cautioned against giving the NTF-ELCAC billions in funding, saying the money could be used to red tag critics of the Duterte administration.
Officials of the controversial panel has many times been accused of red-tagging celebrities, lawmakers and other personalities.