MANILA - Sen. Risa Hontiveros on Thursday questioned the Department of the Interior and Local Government's need to create a separate "coordination body" that would oversee projects for villages cleared of communist rebels, saying it could be used to earn political favors.
Under the 2021 budget, the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTFELCAC) is expected to get some P16.4 billion, bigger than the allocation for actual agencies like the Labor and Tourism departments.
"Lahat ng supposed na trabaho na gagawin ng NTFELCAC ay spoken for na ng existing agencies natin," Hontiveros said during the DILG's budget hearing in the Senate.
(All the supposed responsibilities of the NTFELCAC are already spoken for by our existing line agencies.)
"It still seems to me that it can be used for political favors... It determines which barangays remain clear [of communists] or not, and which barangay projects should be approved sa (in the) menu," she said.
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon earlier flagged the P16-billion budget for the task force, saying the "secretariat" could "play God" to barangays.
"Next year is an election year, and here is a secretariat who will be playing God to the barangays," Drilon said in a separate hearing last month.
"When you have a system like this, it can be clearly used for political purposes," he said.
Interior Secretary Eduardo Año denied that the task force wields power and influence over village officials, saying that the funds would be disbursed directly to local government units, and not to the coordination office.
"Wala pong say ang NTFELCAC kung anong barangay ang aalisin o pipiliin. Walang pondo ang maiiwan sa kanila. Lahat ire-release sa local government units," Año said.
(The NTEFLCAC does not have a say on which village will be taken off the list or which project will be chosen. Funds will not be left with them because everything will be released to local government units.)
Hontiveros said this reinforces her suspicions that the task force is "not just overfunded," but also a "surplus" in the bureaucracy.
"Para siyang sumingit o umeeksena lang," the senator said.
If the administration is serious in ending the communist insurgency, then it should not have "slashed" the 2021 budget of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) to P700 million from P19 billion, she said.