Año denies ₱16-B budget to end communist insurgencies a form of 'pork barrel'

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 10) — Interior Secretary Eduardo Año denied Thursday that the ₱16 billion budget allotted to a task force working to end the communist insurgency is a form of pork barrel funds.

During the budget briefing of the Department of Interior and Local Government with the House Committee on Appropriations, Año said the localities that will get funds from the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ECLAC) have already been identified.

A total of 822 "cleared" barangays in remote areas are set to benefit from the said funds and money will be spent on specific projects, aimed at discouraging residents from helping or joining communist rebels.

"May mga parameters para masabing cleared na [ang barangay], 'yung sinasabing barangay political organizations kung saan may mga militia...ito po ay na-disorganize na...na-regain na natin ang trust at competence ng mga tao," Año said.

[Translation: There are parameters to determine whether a barangay has already been cleared, barangay political organizations with militia have already been disorganized, and we have already regaind the trust and competence of the people.]

Kabataan Partylist Rep. Sarah Elago also expressed concern that the budget may be used for the 2022 elections, as the list of beneficiaries needed to be approved by President Rodrigo Duterte.

Año denied this and also insisted that the budget does not count as a "lump sum" allocation as they will specify each project.

"Naka-itemize ito at...isa-submit sa Congress once makumpleto na po ang listahan ng specific projects," he said. "Hindi po tayo papayag na ila-lump sum ito, dapat defined ang bawat project para mapunta ito sa tama."

[Translation: This is itemized and we will submit to Congress once we complete the list of specific projects. We will not accept that this will qualify as lump sum because each project must be defined to ensure that they will be allocated properly.]

During the same budget hearing, Philippine National Police chief Camilo Cascolan said that they will also investigate local police stations that have been tagging activists as terrorists.

"We will investigate this. We assure you that the PNP always follows the rule of law."

Cascolan added that they will check the PNP's social media accounts which have been red-tagging individuals, including progressive lawmakers.

On Wednesday, the budget hearing of the Presidential Communications Operations Office was suspended after Communications Undersecretary Lorraine Badoy red-tagged several lawmakers from the Makabayan bloc.

CNN Philippines Correspondent Xianne Arcangel contributed to this report.