MANILA (UPDATE) — Members of the House of Representatives' Makabayan bloc on Friday said the proposed 2021 budget for the government's anti-communist task force could be categorized as discretionary funds, or "pork barrel."
Makabayan lawmakers criticized the budget allotted to the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTFELCAC), which they accused of falsely tagging several lawmakers as communist leaders.
Last Thursday, Interior Secretary Eduardo Año defended the P16-billion budget for "barangay development program" of NTFELCAC, to which his agency is a member.
Under the program, barangays deemed "cleared" from insurgency will be rewarded of P20 million worth of projects.
Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate said the mechanism of identifying these barangays makes the funds "pork."
According to Eufemia Cullamat, another representative of Bayan Muna, this "reward system" will drive barangays to resort to "terror tagging" in order to get the coveted funds.
"Sa totoo lang ay panloloko ito sa atin, panlilinlang sa taumbayan. Hindi din angkop na mamimigay sila ng P20 milyon sa kada barangay kung ito ay maging NPA-free daw. Talo pa nila ang PCSO sa pamamahagi ng papremyo sa lotto. Masyado nilang pinalalaway ang mga barangay sa halagang ito. Tiyak itong magdudulot ng ibayong pekeng pagpapa-surrender at terror-tagging sa mga simpleng mamamayan," she said.
The Makabayan bloc said it will push to defund NTFELCAC.
"Sa totoo lang, dapat zero ang budget ng NTFELCAC. P19.1 bilyon para sa isang ahensya na nagpapalaganap lang ng fake news at tanging terror-tagging ang ginagawa," said Cullamat.
TASK FORCE HITS BACK
Meanwhile, National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon, who serves as NTFELCAC vice chair, rejected the bloc's accusations.
Esperon said the projects to be bankrolled by the program will still go through the usual budget hearings and will not solely depend on the task force's discretion.
The funds will be released to municipalities where the identified barangays are located and the implementation will be supervised by the provincial governments, and the regional task forces under the NTFELCAC, Esperon added.
These barangays, he said, have been identified as cleared of insurgency from 2016 to 2019.
Many of the 822 barangays eligible for the P20-million fund are from Davao region, including one barangay located in the district of Rep. Paolo Duterte.
Esperon also denied reports that the funds could be used to influence the 2022 elections, since the barangays identified for the program are not considered vote-rich.