MANILA - Senate Committee on Finance chair Sen. Sonny Angara on Tuesday said the entire P19-billion anti-insurgency fund in the proposed 2021 budget would be retained despite calls to realign the sum to "more important" concerns like aid for typhoon victims.
The Department of Budget and Management requested not to remove the funding allocated for the development of villages in communist-infested localities because it is a "flagship program of the President," Angara said in an online press conference.
"The President is very adamant that we solve the underlying problem of insurgency, which is not just political or ideological, but also developmental," he said, referring to the budget of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC).
Under the program, about P20 million would be allocated for the development of some 800 barangays to discourage locals from joining the communist movement, which has been using poverty as one of its pillars for recruitment, the senator said.
"There's P10 or P12 million for road development. There's an amount for school buildings, for planting trees. Meron din (There's also an amount) for wi-fi," he said.
"It's not just a purely military solution but a developmental solution," he said.
The development came on the heels of controversy surrounding the alleged red-tagging of celebrities and lawmakers by military officials, particularly NTF-ELCAC spokesperson Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade Jr.
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon earlier said that the minority bloc would push to have the P19-billion anti-insurgency fund realigned to programs meant to counter the COVID-19 pandemic, and help typhoon victims rebuild their homes.
The items raised by the minority bloc will be funded by realigning allocations from other sources, Angara said without specifying which agencies received budget cuts.
"We spread it (budget cut) out through the different agencies as much as possible kasi medyo payat na din 'yung mga agency budgets sa totoo lang (because to be honest most agencies already have lean budgets)," he said.
"We try to spread the pain [of having a budget cut] around," he said.
Angara said he expects that NTF-ELCAC funding to be debated upon in plenary as inority senators warned that the sum could be used to court favors from local governments come the 2022 elections.