Drilon questions 'hasty' release of anti-communist task force funds

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 4) - Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon on Tuesday questioned the government's spending priorities amid the COVID-19 pandemic, noting the "hasty" release of over ₱10 billion to the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC).

"Bakit po parang nagmadaling ilabas ang budget? Bakit yung pondo sa Marawi rehabilitation mabagal ang paglabas ng pondo? Saan po gagamitin itong ₱10.68 bilyon?" Drilon said in a statement.

[Translation: Why is there a rush to release the budget? Why is the release of funds for Marawi rehabilitation taking so long? Where will they use the ₱10.68 billion?]

The budget of the NTF-ELCAC for this year is ₱19 billion, with ₱16.4 to be spent for its Barangay Development Program as incentives for barangays cleared of insurgency threats.

Drilon emphasized that while the national government's financial assistance for private sector workers remains a "proposal and unfunded," data from the Department of Budget and Management showed ₱10.68 billion of the NTF-ELCAC's budget had already been released from March 24 to April 29.

He said addressing unemployment and hunger during the health crisis should be prioritized.

"Defeating the virus and addressing the effects of the pandemic such as unemployment and hunger should be our priority. There are 62% of Filipino households who experienced hunger due to COVID-19 pandemic. There are 4.4 million Filipinos who lost jobs in 2020," Drilon said.

"Yet, the government is giving priority to NTF-ELCAC's anti-insurgency program rather than use the funds to expand ayuda (cash assistance), buy vaccines and feed the poor," he added.

Drilon said the Senate should scrutinize the use of the NTF-ELCAC's budget and compel the task force to submit a report to Congress.

"Saan po ba napunta ang ₱10.68 billion? Anong barangay? Anong siyudad o bayan ang nakinabang dito? [Where did the ₱10.68 billion go? In which barangay? What city or town benefited from this?] In the spirit of transparency, let us publish the data and inform the public," Drilon said.

The NTF-ELCAC has been criticized recently after two of its spokespersons linked community pantry volunteers and organizers to the communist movement. Some senators pushed to defund the task force next year.

But National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr., who is also the NTF-ELCAC's vice chairperson, warned that defunding the task force would affect its anti-insurgency efforts.