MANILA (UPDATED)—The National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) on Monday insisted that government funds were put to proper use through programs aimed at countering communist insurgency in various communities.
NTF-ELCAC vice chair and National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. said the task force does not receive funds from other government agencies.
Esperon said there were no fund transfers to the task force as various government agencies spend their own funds through coordinated programs.
“Kami dito, convergence. Sama-sama tayo sa pag-implement ng projects. May dala tayong lahat ng project at lahat papunta sa serbisyo sa bayan at nakakatulong sa pagpapaalis sa mga NPA (New People’s Army) sa mga lugar,” Esperon said.
(We are together in implementing projects. These all go to the public and help in eliminating the NPA.)
In the 2020 audit report by the Commission on Audit on the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority, government auditors noted that the transfer of P160 million funds through Notice of Transfer Allocation for programs of the anti-communist task force is “highly questionable for lack of authority and legal basis."
The audit report noted that provisions of Executive Order No. 70 do not give specific authority to task force member agencies to exercise sole discretion to allot funds for implementation out of its appropriation.
“We recommended that Management provide legal authority/ basis for the fund transfers of ₱160,083,401.61 to Regional Offices for the implementation of EO No. 70, for this may be a ground for technical malversation of public funds,” auditors said in the report.
Among the fund utilizations flagged by the auditors were P1.7 million spent on monthly meetings in Region XII.
TESDA deputy director general Lina Sarmiento said P147 million were spent on scholarship projects for beneficiaries, among others.
“Ito po ay ginamit ng TESDA sa mga kababayan natin na nag-surrender, sa mga kababayan natin na IPs (indigenous peoples), at sa mga kababayan natin na hindi naaabot ng gobyerno,” Sarmiento said.
(These were used by TESDA to our fellowmen who surrendered, to the IPs and those not serviced by government.)
Other member agencies of the task force also stressed that their funds for anti-communist programs were spent according to pertinent laws and regulations.
Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) Undersecretary Glen Paje said that they were addressing the lack of documentation of the used funds.
“Our DSWD field office via the recommendation of COA has agreed to join and collaborate with the agencies including the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) to retrieve the copies of these documents as well as attest to the eligibility of beneficiaries,” Paje said.
Philippine National Police deputy chief Lt. Gen. Joselito Vera Cruz said that their 2020 funds for NTF-ELCAC programs were under continuous appropriation, which means that they still have until the end of 2021 to utilize the funds.
“Na-assure po ng ating chief PNP na walang single centavo na mawawala sa korapsyon dito sa pondong ito, at ito ay aming gagamitin upang ipatupad ang aming role dito sa NTF-ELCAC,” Vera Cruz said.
(Our PNP chief assured no single centavo goes to corruption, and we will use the funds to implement our role in NTF-ELCAC.)
Bayan Muna Rep. Ferdinand Gaite said earlier that it is high time that the NTF-ELCAC be abolished, amid allegations that it mishandled funds.
"As it is, the NTF-ELCAC is essentially like a civilian-military junta manipulating taxpayer's money for their ill intents," said the progressive lawmaker.
Esperon hit back at the Makabayan solon for "falsely accusing" the task force of mishandling public funds.
"Siguro yung kanilang reaction ay misplaced, wala sa lugar and probably will even say na self-serving," he said.
Esperon said he welcomes the move of Gabriela Party-list for a congressional inquiry on the alleged fund transfers and spending of NTF-ELCAC under House Resolution No. 2417.