MANILA - Ending communist insurgency in the Philippines will be one of President Rodrigo Duterte's legacies when he steps down from power next year, his ally Senator Roland "Bato" Dela Rosa said on Tuesday.
Dela Rosa, Duterte's first national police chief, made the remark as he defended the proposed budget for the Department of National Defense next year, which amounts to P229.6 billion.
The lawmaker boasted about the government’s continuous campaign against communist forces.
“Before (President Duterte) goes out of Malacañang, insurgency problem will be gone,” Dela Rosa told Sen. Panfilo Lacson, also a former chief of the Philippine National Police.
“Is that achievable? Yung ma-end yung (ending the) insurgency problem? That’s 6 to 7 months from now?” Lacson asked Dela Rosa. Duterte's term ends in June next year.
“Yes... Ang problema na lang natin ngayon, eto sa, na-confine na lang tayo dito sa Samar area kung saan ang kanilang malalaking commanders, yung Tiamzon couple, andyan pa,” said Dela Rosa.
(Yes... Our only problem now is they are still in Samar, where they are confined, with their high-level commanders, including the Tiamzon couple.)
He cited a report provided by the defense department, underlining the number of New People's Army guerilla fronts that the government has supposedly dismantled.
Lacson, however, disputed this, noting that of the 232 NPA-initiated atrocities last year, 59 percent occurred in Mindanao, while those in Luzon and in the Visayas were at 24 percent and 17 percent, respectively.
This means, he said, "there is a lot of work to do" in Mindanao than in the Visayas, where Samar is located.
"Kaya relevant yung tanong kung achievable ba yung ma-end talaga yung insurgency problem” Lacson pointed out.
(That's why it's relevant to ask if ending the insurgency problem within the said timeline is achievable.)
Dela Rosa maintained that the number of NPA forces in Mindanao have already gone down, prompting the military to shift its focus to the Visayas area.
Previous records from the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) only indicated “3 to 4 dismantled NPA lairs” every year, which increased to 20 guerilla fronts quashed until November, Dela Rosa said.
And from 2016’s 70 guerilla fronts, there are now only 43 “weakened” NPA fronts, he added.
“To the NPA doctrine, dapat ang NPA guerilla fronts mayroong 3 platoons, or 100 armed combatants… from 100, 10 to 20 (armed combatants) na lang,” Dela Rosa said.
Communist insurgents began waging war mainly in the countryside in the late 1960s. Negotiations for peaceful settlement started in 1987, but had been stalled from time to time.
In 2019, Duterte finally terminated the talks between government and the the communist group.
Lacson also questioned the defense department’s “unused appropriations,” which from year 2017 to 2020, according to him, averaged to at least P14.61 billion per year, or a total of P58.453 billion.
The lawmaker noted the following unused appropriations:
- 2017 - P11.282 billion
- 2018 – 15.973 billion
- 2019 – 20.355 billion
- 2020 - 10.843 billion
“Ang tanong dito (the question here is), why the AFP-General Headquarters and the Philippine Army, sila yung nag-incur ng (they incurred the) higher appropriations in the past year,” Lacson said.
Dela Rosa responded that those unused funds were due to the procurement process, either because of the absence of a bidder, disqualification of the bidder, or the overall effects of the pandemic.
The Philippine Army also has a P5.4 billion “parked funds” at the Philippine International Trading Corporation (PITC) since year 2014, Dela Rosa said.
In 2020, the DND has adopted the policy of not giving a portion of its budget to the PITC to procure some of their requirements, Dela Rosa said.
“The amount to be delivered is P4.5 million. That leaves us only P449 million amount to be transferred to the Bureau of Treasury as of the moment,” he added.
The figure given by Dela Rosa, however, was contradicted by Lacson's data from the Commission on Audit (COA), which stated a total of P15,927,927 billion.
The Philippine Army also has a total of “unliquidated balances” amounting to P8.523 billion, said Lacson.
“Since 2007, eto yung nagiging kalakaran ano? Eto pa yung nakakagulat. Ang ginawa pang delivery ng PITC, 0.01 percent. Meaning, zero. 2020, 0.22 percent. Meaning, zero," he said.
(This has been how things were done since 2007, right? This is what's shocking. The delivery of PITC was at 0.01 percent, which means zero.)
"So, ano na nangyari ngayon doon sa P15.9 billion? Nasaan na ngayon yung P8.523 billion? Kasi sabi ng COA, unliquidated balances… We should look more deeply into these issues because hindi po biro-biro ang amounts na involve,” he added.
(So what happened to the P15.9 billion? Where is the P8.523 billion worth of unliquidated balances? These amounts cannot be disregarded.)
“And this is only the Philippine Army. We’re not even talking about the Philippine Air Force and the Philippine Navy. We’re not even talking about other agencies in the government."
Another point that must be pondered on, Lacson said, is how much the PITC earns from agencies requesting their service. The PITC charges 4 percent for its operational expenses.
“You can just imagine, kung meron silang natanggap from the Philippne Army alone overtime, since... sabihin na nating P16 billion times 4 percent. That is P640 million I think ha," the lawmaker said.
(If they got something like P16 billion, 4 percent of that is P640 million.)
"This is anomalous… So kung ganito kalaki ang hinahawakan nilang pondo, sa interest income pa lang, katakot-takot na ang kinita nitong P15.9 billion."
(If this is how big the funds are, the interest income is really high, if based from P15.9 billion)
Lacson insisted to the DND officials to do the procurement themselves, instead of transferring the task to the PITC.
The agency has committed to submit the breakdown to the Senate.
— Sherrie Ann Torres, ABS-CBN News