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DBM: Over 1,400 barangays to get P20-M each from NTF-ELCAC

By RG Cruz / ABS-CBN News

MANILA - A total of 1,406 barangays nationwide will get P20 million each under the P28.1 billion proposed National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) budget for 2022.

Department of Budget and Management (DBM) officer-in-charge Undersecretary Tina Canda disclosed this during the opening of the congressional deliberations on the 2022 National Expenditure Program at the House Appropriations Committee Thursday.

"For 2022, the budget for NTF-ELCAC is P28.12 billion. This is from a budget of P16.44 billion in 2021. The rationale for the increase is that in 2021, 822 barangays were cleared so that is the equivalent amount for the 2021 level, and for 2022 the number of barangays cleared increased to 1,406. So that's the reason for the increase," Canda told Gabriela Rep. Arlene Brosas during the latter’s interpellation.

Makabayan bloc lawmakers faced off with the administration’s economic managers over the NTF-ELCAC’s 2022 budget as the COVID 19 pandemic continues to wreak havoc.

Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez and Canda were confronted by lawmakers who have been critical of the task force that has been accused of red-tagging lawmakers, celebrities, and government critics.

Members of the Makabayan bloc wanted the NTF-ELCAC’s budget realigned to COVID-19 response programs as they feared it may be used for the 2022 election campaign.

Brosas said that for 2022, the Duterte administration will give an additional fund of only P3.64 billion to public hospitals and P3.8 billion for the emergency hiring of 6,810 health workers while the NTF-ELCAC will get a P30.46 billion funding, or P11.3-billion more than its current budget.

"The budget fine prints reveal that critical health programs are being sidelined while a shady, amorphous task force gets a bigger share of the pie,” the lawmaker said in a statement.

"Napakalaki po yun yung sa DOH napakaliit. Sa kuwenta namin halimbawa kung budget ng DOh hospitals ang paguusapan sa Metro manila sa mga rehiyon nasa P3.64 billion lang ang karagdagang budget," Brosas said during the hearing.

"Hindi naman ito direct response sa pandemic. Ano po ang nilalaman nitong NTF-ELCAC budget?” Brosas added.

Canda refuted this, saying there was also an increase in the budget for DOH.

"For DOH there was an increase of P3.58 billion for hospitals so it is not true naman I mean na binabaan po yung DOH in fact sa hospitals po 'yung direct provisions for hospital it increased to P3.587 billion. The breakdown of NTF-ELCAC is actually in the documents submitted to Congress," she explained.

"As to the hospital breakdown, an amount of P40 billion has been included for hospitals alone for 2022. It must be noted that certain services under DOH have been devolved as a result of the Mandanas ruling. As a result, there will be some departments primarily DOH, DSWD, and DPWH including I think DA which will reflect a downward trend, if you will examine their budgets because there will be a devolution of certain activities in their budgets," Canda added.

Kabataan Rep. Sarah Elago, meanwhile, said the budget for education pales in comparison to the NTF-ELCAC budget.

"Maski po yung pondo ng NTF-ELCAC mas mataas po sa buong budget, education assistance and subsidies para sa mga estudyante," she said.

Bayan Muna Rep. Eufemia C. Cullamat said: "Bakit sa gitna ng pandemya ang laki ng itinaas ng budget ng NTF-ELCAC? Ano ang pakinabang ng mamayan sa NTFELCAC budget lalo na sa panahon ng pandemya?"

Members of the bloc spoke out to explain their points during the House Appropriations Committee hearing on the 2022 National Expenditure Program.

Canda said: "We cannot underestimate the value of NTF-ELCAC because it provides the livelihood and transformation which our barangays need lalo far-flung barangays after the threat of 'yung armed threat na umalis doon sa mga barangays na ito."

"Malaki din naman po ang naging increase ng DOH on a year to year basis in fact as mentioned earlier there was a 15.1 percent increase in DOH."

Dominguez responded for the NTF-ELCAC during the budget deliberations at the House Appropriations Committee.

"The NTF-ELCAC is part of the President’s program and it is reflected in the budget to promote rural development, and rural autonomy and to provide for peace and order in the rural areas. It is wrong to say that these funds are not used for the poorest of the poor. These funds are precisely aimed towards rural development so I really contest the statements of Rep. Cullamat here and take issue with her on this," he said.

Earlier, Albay 1st District Rep. Edcel Lagman asked DBM if the P28.1 billion budget for the NTF-ELCAC and the P8.6 billion confidential and intelligence funds of the executive can be considered as COVID-19 response budgets or activities.

Canda said she wasn’t sure where the items will be used. Canda also said that the NTF-ELCAC budget is mostly for infrastructure projects in barangays cleared from the insurgency.

"These 2 variants of the budget are not really for COVID response," Lagman remarked in response to Canda.



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