MANILA - Sen. Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa on Thursday opposed the slashing of the proposed 2022 budget for the country's anti-communist task force, saying rebels can take advantage of it.
The National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) will suffer a P24 billion budget cut next year, Senate finance committee chair Sen. Sonny Angara had said, following the agency's failure to fully report how it spent P16 billion supposedly to help local villages this year.
Dela Rosa, during Thursday's Senate budget deliberation, said NTF-ELCAC is a "game changer" in addressing exploitation reportedly being committed by members of the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People's Army (CPP-NPA) in far-flung villages.
“Sino makikinabang, sino magbubunyi? 'Di ba NPA? Sasaya NPA ngayon,” said the lawmaker who was formerly chief of the Philippine National Police.
(Who will benefit from and rejoice over this? Isn't it the NPA The NPA will be happy now.)
Angara on Tuesday said the NTF-ELCAC's proposed budget for 2022 as stated in the General Appropriations Bill was set at P30.45 billion. Of that, P28.1 billion will go to the Local Government Support Fund – Support to the Barangay Development Fund (LGSF-SBDP).
He said P24 billion will be slashed from the LGSF-SBDP allocation.
“We had no way of knowing what because there was nothing before us. We had requested all the agencies to submit something. But when we actually did the cut last week, when we were processing the sub-committee reports, we had nothing. We had no information,” Angara pointed out in the Senate deliberation.
The NTF-ELCAC initially received a budget of P1 billion in 2020, followed by P19.3 billion this year. The big jump was based on the request of then Budget Secretary Wendell Avisado not to alter the proposed budget for the task force at the time given the significance of its functions, Angara said.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III defended the Senate finance committee’s stand to cut the NTF-ELCAC's proposed budget, saying there are local officials who reported inequitable distribution of barangay development funds in the countryside.
Sotto said he received word from the governor of Davao de Oro that Panabo City received P400 million while the rest of the province only had P60 million.
MORE BUDGET CUT?
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said the NTF-ELCAC's proposed spending plan next year can still be slashed further by P2.3 billion.
According to Drilon, that amount is allotted to government agencies that assist the NTF-ELCAC, including the Department of the Interior and Local Government, Department of Agrarian Reform, Department of Agriculture, Department of Social Welfare and Development, and the Department of National Defense, among others.
He said the NTF-ELCAC's programs for local villages should be abolished since other government agencies are already doing it.
The Senate finance committee has proposed a final P4 billion budget for the task force next year.
Sen. Ralph Recto questioned the need to give NTF-ELCAC a budget, which he called "pork-barrel-like".
Angara has said President Rodrigo Duterte can veto their applied budget reductions, but that would result in the NTF-ELCAC receiving zero budget. The Chief Executive also has the option to realign special funds or discretionary funds to augment the NTF-ELCAC’s budget if he wants to, the senator clarified.
— With a report from Robert Mano, ABS-CBN News