MANILA - Sen. Ronald Dela Rosa on Monday appealed to his fellow senators to avoid nixing the proposed P19-billion budget of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC), saying villagers may return to sympathizing with the communist rebels should the government fail to deliver promised projects in rural barangays.
Some villagers join the New Peoples Army, the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines, because they do not feel the presence and aid of the government in their areas, Dela Rosa said during the budget deliberations in the Senate.
"Fifty years in the making po ito na nililigawan ng kasundaluhan at kapulisan para mapunta yung simpatya sa gobyerno," said Dela Rosa, a former chief of the Philippine National Police (PNP).
(For 50 years, the military and the police courted these people to sympathize with the government.)
"Walang mga projects na binigay sa kanilang mga barangay. Hindi nila ramdam ang gobyerno doon sa kanilang lugar," he said.
(Their barangays did not receive projects. They do not feel the presence of the government in their areas.)
"Kaya ito nakuha ng gobyerno kasi sinabihan 'yung mga taga-barangay na 'wag na pumunta na sa NPA at meron silang very bright future kung maniniwala sila sa gobyerno,'" he said.
(The government managed to win them back because they told the villagers, 'Don't join th NPA and you will have a very bright future with the government'.)
Of the NTF-ELCAC's proposed P19-billion budget, P16 billion will be used for the development of 822 barangays which have been "cleared" of communist rebels.
Each barangay is expected to receive P20-million-worth of projects which may be used for the following programs:
- P12 million for road concreting
- P3 million for school buildings
- P2 million for water sanitation
- P1.5 million for greening
- P1.5 million for health stations
The government needs to win back Filipinos who joined the communist movement, Dela Rosa said.
"Napakasakit po isipin na 'yung simpatiya nung mga tao natin na we have sworn to serve and protect ay wala sa atin, nandun sa kabila dahil napabayaan sila," he said.
(It is very painful to think that the sympathy of the people we have sworn to serve and protect are not with us, but with the other side.)
"This is a battle of winning the hearts and minds of the people," he added.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson, another former PNP chief, backed Dela Rosa's call to retain the P19-billion insurgency fund in the 2021 budget.
"It is not the Armed Forces that will implement. Diretso ito sa local government unit," he said.
Zubiri was also in favor of retaining the anti-insurgency fund in the budget, but noted that the allotment would not have been necessary if only executive departments worked in developing rural areas in the country.
"What we were pushing for sana is, if government agencies did their jobs... it didn't have to come to this," he said, noting that his home province Bukidnon is still infested with communist rebels.
Zubiri's father - Jose Ma. R. Zubiri Jr. - is a veteran politician who is the incumbent governor of Bukidnon, while his brother Manuel Zubiri represents the province's third district in the House of Representatives.
The Senate minority bloc earlier said that it would push for the realignment of the anti-insurgency budget to boost funds for COVID-19 response programs and disaster relief projects, but such proposal is yet to be made in plenary.
Senate Committee on Finance chair Sonny Angara earlier said that the P19-billion anti-insurgency fund would be retained in the 2021 budget despite the call of opposition members. But Sen. Nancy Binay urged the NTF-ELCAC to sift through the beneficiaries, noting that some highly-urbanized villages were still included in the list.