MANILA – Malacañang on Thursday thumbed down some senators’ push to defund the government’s anti-insurgency task force over alleged red-tagging issue amid the rise of community pantries.

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said defunding the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) is “unjustified” since its funds are currently being used to free villages from threats to security and development.

“Ang pagkakaalam ko po iyong pondo ng ELCAC ay para po sa mga proyekto na magbibigay ng asenso at progreso sa mga lugar na mayroon pang mga rebelde. So, sa akin po hindi naman po justified (What I know is the funds of the ELCAC are for projects that will give progress to areas with rebels. So, for me it’s not justified),” he said in a Palace press briefing.

Roque said Palace would leave it to NTF-ELCAC officials to perform their duties, but reiterated support for community pantries across the country.

“Malinaw po ang posisyon ng Presidente diyan, malinaw ang posisyon ng [Department of the Interior and Local Government], malinaw ang posisyon ng PNP [Philippine National Police] (The position of the President is clear, the position of the DILG and the PNP is clear)– let a thousand community pantries bloom,” he said.

Asked if Palace would reprimand NTF ELCAC spokesperson, Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade over his remark against an organizer of a community pantry in Quezon City, Roque said he may arrange for a meeting with Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana to discuss the issue.

“Siguro po kakausapin namin ni Secretary [Eduardo] Año, si Secretary Delfin Lorenzana (Perhaps Secretary Año and I will speak to Secretary Delfin Lorenzana), because that’s the proper chain of command po ‘no,” he said.

He noted that Lorenzana has previously warned Parlade, who is Southern Luzon Command chief, to be more cautious in making statements.

“I think General Parlade reports to Secretary Lorenzana and hindi naman po sikreto na may mga pagkakataon na pinagsabihan na ni Secretary Lorenzana na mag-ingat-ingat nang kaunti si General Parlade sa kaniyang mga deklarasyon (it’s not a secret that there are times Secretary Lorenzana reprimands General Parlade and tells him to be careful in his declarations),” he added.

At least six senators want to withdraw funding for the NTF-ELCAC and reallocate its current PHP19 billion budget to fund assistance to people affected by the pandemic.

Senate President Vicente “Tito” Sotto III, however, said it is better to replace “irresponsible” NTF-ELCAC officials instead.

“We should not be hasty in blaming a good program because of irresponsible statements from some officials. Replace the officials instead,” he said, but did not mention any names.

Of the PHP19 billion total budget of the NTF-ELCAC, more than PHP16 billion is allotted to over 800 barangays cleared of insurgency.

The NTF-ELCAC was created by virtue of Executive Order 70 issued on Dec. 4, 2018 “to provide an efficient mechanism and structure for the implementation of the Whole-of-Nation Approach to aid in the realization of the collective aspirations for inclusive and sustainable peace.” (PNA)