MANILA - Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon on Wednesday flagged the P16-billion budget next year for an anti-insurgency task force, questioning why it received more funds than the labor and the tourism departments, whose sectors were crippled by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Under the proposed 2021 budget, the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict is set to receive some P16.4 billion, while the Department of Labor and Employment and the Department of Tourism will only get P15.9 billion and P3.5 billion, respectively, Drilon said during the first day of budget deliberations in the Senate.
"Are we saying communist insurgency is a bigger, more serious problem next year than unemployment... than the shutting down of the tourism industry?" Drilon asked economic managers during the hearing.
Budget Secretary Wendel Avisado told Drilon that the fund would not be spent on the procurement of guns and bullets that would be used in combatting communist rebels.
"These are requested projects from the barangays, released to local government units for implementation... That way, they would feel that the government is there to fulfill these needs," Avisado said.
"There is an assurance that it will not be used for any other programs. We have a menu [of projects] already," he added.
But Drilon noted that the projects that would help restart livelihood in areas once infested with rebels could have been implemented by regular departments instead of a "secretariat."
"Our problem is, we keep on creating bureaucracies. We keep on creating layers," Drilon said.
"Next year is an election year, and here is a secretariat who will be playing God to the barangays," he said.
"When you have a system like this, it can be clearly used for political purposes."
Avisado said the the P16-billion budget for the anti-insurgency task force had to be included in the 2021 spending bill as it was a directive from President Rodrigo Duterte, who created the group in 2018.
"This is pursuant to an executive order by the President. We are just looking at the executive order to be followed," the Budget chief said.
Under Duterte's Executive Order No. 70, the task force is mandated to "provide an efficient mechanism" that will prioritize the "delivery of basic services and social development packages" to former conflict zones to entice rebels to make peace with the government and be reintegrated in society.
"What is important is they are really now programmed for those specific barangays that have already been cleared [of armed rebels] rather than spreading these programs without a clear purpose," Avisado said.