Velasco wants addt'l budget for NTF-ELCAC despite underspent 2020 funds

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, July 22) — House Speaker Lord Allan Velasco wants to give the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict additional funding for next year despite government's underutilized budget for its anti-insurgency campaign.

Velasco told CNN Philippines' The Source on Thursday that issues surrounding the task force will surely be tackled in the upcoming budget deliberations, including the government's millions of pesos of unspent anti-communist funds in 2020.

But he personally wants to boost NTF-ELCAC funds further to assist far-flung barangays that are vulnerable to insurgency.

"For me personally, naniniwala ako na kailangan ng additional funding (for) these certain barangays, sa mga areas na ito mostly because kinakailangan nating pagandahin," Velasco said. "One of the reasons na parang naiinvite yung mga tao sa barangays sa mga insurgent is mainly because feeling nila nawala yung presence ng government."

[Translation: For me personally, I believe that these certain barangays need additional funding, mostly because they need to be improved. One of the reasons why people from barangays are swayed by insurgents is mainly because they do not feel the presence of the government anymore.]

State auditors previously reported that the Philippine National Police, one of the member agencies of NTF-ELCAC, only spent ₱86 million or 12% of its over ₱722 million budget for anti-communist programs in 2020.

READ: PNP underspent for anti-communist funds in 2020 — COA 

Senate President Tito Sotto III previously said they intend to look into the matter, while Senate Committee on Finance chair Sen. Sonny Angara said that his panel will coordinate with concerned agencies tasked to implement the programs.

Velasco said the lower chamber will also investigate the matter during the budget hearings and find out whether NTF-ELCAC really needs a bigger funding.

In a congressional hearing last year, Commission on Audit chief Michael Aguinaldo admitted auditors have no way of tracing NTF-ELCAC's budget since it is categorized as intelligence funds.

Interior Secterary Eduardo Año earlier said NTF-ELCAC will seek a ₱40-billion budget next year for barangay development projects, double its ₱16.4-billion fund for the program this year.

The ₱16-billion fund is part of NTF-ELCAC's ₱19-billion budget for 2021.

Part of the task force's proposal is to clear villages of communist forces by giving them ₱20 million each for various livelihood and construction projects like farm-to-market roads, school buildings, and sanitation systems.

Some 822 barangays are entitled to receive funds from NTF-ELCAC this year. For 2022, Año said the benefit will further be extended to 2,000 barangays recently cleared of armed rebels.

READ: Anti-communist body seeks doubling of budget in 2022