Bato warns: Senate may appear as ‘NPA supporter’ with NTF-ELCAC fund cut
By Gabriel Pabico Lalu / Philippine Daily Inquirer
MANILA, Philippines — Senator Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa has warned his colleagues in the Senate about the huge cuts in the funding of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC), saying it may appear to the public as an expression of support to the communist New People’s Army (NPA).
During the hearing of the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) proposed funds before the plenary on Thursday, Dela Rosa questioned why the Senate opted to cut NTF-ELCAC’s funds for 2022, from P28 billion to just P4 billion.
Dela Rosa said communities benefitting from the NTF-ELCAC’s Barangay Development Program may perceive the move to be supportive of the NPA, the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) which is still waging an insurgency against the government.
“Ang pinaka-masakit dito Mr. President, ‘pag tayo ay ma-misinterpret ng taumbayan. ‘Yong mga tiga-bundok, masyadong mababa ‘yong kanilang pag-understand sa situation, baka sabihin nila tayo sa Senado ay pro-NPA dahil tinanggal na din ang pondo na nakakapatay sa problema ng NPA,” he said.
Dela Rosa who was also appointed by President Rodrigo Duterte as chief of the Philippine National Police (PNP) prior to becoming senator, said the slashed NTF-ELCAC programs were meant to address the root cause of the insurgency.
“Ito ay game-changer, itong mga project and programs na ito, game-changer po ito sa problema natin sa insurgency dahil alam natin na even if we’re able to kill the last insurgent, but the root cause of insurgency which is poverty and social injustice brought about by decades of government neglect, wala pa ring mangyayari sa problema natin Mr. President,” Dela Rosa said.
Dela Rosa said stopping the program would make the NPA “happy” as the government has failed to deliver on its promises.
“Ngayon kung hindi natin ito ibibigay sa kanila, you don’t clear the barangays na ito, babalik na naman ito sa mga NPA, back to square one na naman ang ating problema na ito. So ngayon Mr. President, hindi natin ito magawa, sinong makikinabang nito. Sinong magbubunyi dahil naputol ang ELCAC funds? Di ba ang NPA?” he asked.
“Sasaya ang NPA nito, maligaya ang NPA dahil ‘tignan niyo ‘yang gobyerno na ‘yan promise nang promise sa inyo na bigyan kayo ng mga barangay development funds, ngayon hindi nila nadeliver. O ano ngayon, nga-nga kayo, balik na lang kayo dito sa amin’. So ang NPA ang makikinabang,” he added.
But Dela Rosa was countered by Senate President Vicente Sotto III, who stressed that the reason for NTF-ELCAC’s existence was not put into question, and was not the reason why the agency’s funds were slashed.
Rather, there were questions on how the agency spends its budget — which remained unanswered until earlier when the agency provided the Senate a copy of their programs.
“Yes Senator dela Rosa and the chairman of the committee on finance, at this point we should go behind the reason — we all know the reason for the NTF-ELCAC. And Senator dela Rosa is absolutely correct. Now the big question here in the budget is how did you spend it? Naka-submit na ba?” Sotto asked.
“The reasons for the NTF-ELCAC are given already. That’s why we approved that eh. The point now is how it was spent, how it was executed,” he added.
Sotto was backed by Senate finance committee chair Senator Sonny Angara, who said that while he understands Dela Rosa’s sentiments about winning the war against insurgency through programs, the Senate’s queries about what happened to the funding must also be satisfied.
Angara said that he used the same arguments raised by Dela Rosa in convincing other senators not to touch the NTF-ELCAC’s past budgets, but without a proper explanation during that time, he had no choice but to slash the funding of the said agency.
“I agree with the Presiding Officer your Honor and with the former chief of police and our PMA graduate colleague, Senator dela Rosa, that definitely we have to win the hearts and minds if the battle against the insurgency is not a battle to be won with just guns,” Angara said.
“It’s a battle for the hearts and minds — which is the argument I used last year in convincing our colleagues not to touch the budget. But throughout the committee hearings your Honor, ‘yong mga colleagues natin, Senator Binay, Senator Drilon, were asking for the results. What happened? What were the project? Kasi ang laki ng pondo,” he added.
The NTF-ELCAC, an often-criticized office, has advocated ending the communist insurgency by bringing development into rebel-controlled areas.
But several lawmakers claimed that NTF-ELCAC’s proposed funds for 2022, worth P28 billion, is just pork barrel. Earlier, the Senate slashed down NTF-ELCAC’s funding to just P4 billion, as Senator Sonny Angara said that the agency was unable to properly explain how it spent its P19 billion fund for 2021.