‘Thick-skinned,’ lawmaker says of proposed P40-B budget for anti-red program

By: Julie M. Aurelio / Philippine Daily Inquirer

Eufemia Cullamat. FILE PHOTO / ERWIN MASCARIÑAS

MANILA — The Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) is shameless in asking Congress for more money for an unproven anti-insurgency program when it has not even accounted for unspent funds.


Bayan Muna Rep. Eufemia Cullamat said Interior Secretary Eduardo Año was “thick-skinned” to even think he could ask for another P40 billion for the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-Elcac), which was allotted P19 billion for 2021.


“Secretary Año is so thick-skinned to even ask for an additional P40-billion funds despite the P16 billion that they wasted,” Cullamat said.


“Before Año dreams of a new, massive allocation, he might want to submit a report on how they used the NTF-Elcac’s allocation, and he should explain the COA’s (Commission on Audit) findings that there are many unobligated and unspent [Philippine National Police] funds for counterinsurgency,” said Cullamat’s Bayan Muna colleague, Rep. Ferdinand Gaite.


Both Cullamat and Gaite are members of the so-called Makabayan bloc, which vowed to oppose the DILG bid to increase the NTF-Elcac’s budget despite the uproar it caused for repeatedly tagging its critics as communist sympathizers.


House deputy minority leader and Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate warned that the P40 billion being sought might be used to benefit the administration candidates running in the 2022 polls.


“This fascist agency should be made to account for how it squandered public funds in the midst of a severe crisis our country is facing now. We know that it is already election time and these funds are prone to be used to campaign for the candidates of the NTF-Elcac,” he said in a statement.


Zarate added: “We will go through this budget with a fine-tooth comb during the next budget deliberations and put this P40-billion ‘generals’ pork’ in more useful pandemic intervention programs.”


In asking for the budget increase, Año said the DILG wanted to allocate P20 million to each of the 2,000 barangays that had been cleared of communist rebels for development projects, like farm-to-market roads, schools, houses, health centers, electrification and livelihood projects.


The NTF-Elcac has been under fire in recent months for its spokespersons’ statements alleging that some celebrities, journalists, community pantry organizers and lawmakers have links to the communist insurgency.


Several lawmakers have repeatedly called for the defunding of the NTF-Elcac, particularly during an election year when the P40 billion can be used as a “huge campaign fund” for administration bets in the 2022 elections.


“The regions where there are concentrations of generals’ pork show that these are also marked by an increase in the number of extrajudicial killings, illegal arrests and other human rights violations as the human rights groups noted,” Zarate said.


He also stressed the need to thoroughly scrutinize how the NTF-Elcac spent its budget in 2020 and 2021, especially funds supposedly released to insurgency-cleared villages.


“It may have been used as sources for election funds, especially since some generals of the NTF-Elcac are said to be running for office,” Zarate said.

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