MANILA – National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. on Monday rebuked critics who suggested that the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) funds should be diverted to the Covid-19 efforts, arguing that each of the previously "neglected" barangay even deserves more than the PHP20 million allotted to them under the flagship Barangay Development Program (BDP).
At the weekly virtual press conference of NTF-ELCAC dubbed “TAGGED: Debunking lies by telling the truth”, Esperon said critics' statements regarding the budget to counter the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People's Army-National Democratic Front (CPP-NPA-NDF) were “self-serving” “political statements” meant to entice voters in the coming national and local elections at the expense of the peace and development efforts being undertaken by NTF-ELCAC.
In response to these “irrational” suggestions that the task force’s funds should be used instead for the Covid-19 pandemic, Esperon emphasized that “fighting Covid-19 is not only the threat of concern,” adding there is the “economy to take care of, efforts on anti-criminality,” like fighting illegal drugs and “efforts of sovereignty” in guarding the West Philippines Sea.
“We have to address the triad of the CPP-NPA-NDF that for 53 years seeking to overthrow our democratic form of government. We are working on this, to bring peace and development to the countryside. Insurgency is a ‘black eye’ of the country. BDP is our program for the victims,” said Esperon, who is also NTF-ELCAC vice-chairperson.
He said the government and the private sector are already united in addressing the pandemic as all recognize that Covid-19 is the “clear and present danger”.
Esperon said these critics made “blurred” statements regarding the task force budget.
He clarified that “it is blurred whether they are referring to the Barangay Development Program or to the NTF-ELCAC Funds… because the NTF-ELCAC Funds has a total of PHP19.13 billion as found in the GAA (General Appropriations Act) of 2021”, while “the support fund to the Barangay Development Program, ito po ang flagship program ng NTF-ELCAC, is PHP16.44 billion that covers development in 822 barangays that were cleared (of the CPP-NPA-NDF) from 2016-2019, at PHP20 million each.”
It should be noted that the BDP is used for the rehabilitation of barangays (villages) cleared of communist insurgents by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and other government forces.
He cited President Rodrigo Roa Duterte’s last State of the Nation Address which mentioned the great strides of the task force -- through the BDP -- of empowering our countrymen to live peaceful and fruitful lives who have been suffering unspeakable atrocities at the hands of the CPP-NPA-NDF for a long time.
“He (President Duterte) even enhanced it (BDP) to PHP20 million, (for each barangay)”, Esperon said, which will be spent for farm-to-market-road, school building, livelihood, sanitation, and health center.
Esperon also debunked unfounded claims that next year’s budget of the task force will be used for election purposes and that the BDP allocation for this year was poured in Davao, the bailiwick of Duterte.
“BDP funds intended for 2021 were released as early as March and April with projects determined by the barangays,” he said, pointing that he has already attended several groundbreakings for the implementation of various projects under the program.
Meanwhile, Esperon said full accountability and transparency measures are built into the BDP as this can be seen in the BDP portal of the NTF-ELCAC website—www.ntfelcac.org/bdp-dashboard.
He likewise said the inspection of projects can be done by the Department of the Interior and Local Government led by Undersecretary Marlo L. Iringan, the Cabinet Officers for Regional Development and Security (CORDS), or officials from the main office of NTF-ELCAC. The Commission on Audit is also mandated to audit and inspect.
Monitoring the projects are also in the hands of governors and local government units as the local officials serve as the provincial or local NTF-ELCAC chairperson, Esperon said. “Aside from the governors, we at the higher levels can also audit and inspect.”
The bulk of BDP funds for 2021 were allocated to Mindanao, including Davao Region which has been dealing with a rampant infestation of communist terror groups until government forces were sent to drive out these terrorists.
The next years’ budget allocation for the BDP is intended for 1,406 barangays mostly located in Samar and the Bicol Region, compared to the 822 barangays for 2021. (PR)