MANILA – Despite proposals to slash its budget for 2022, the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) has accomplished its mandate in implementing grassroots projects and helping stamp out insurgency in the countryside.

Abolishing the NTF-ELCAC is uncalled for at the moment, according to Senator Sonny Angara on Friday.

Vice President Leni Robredo is among the most vocal critics of the task force tasked to “provide an efficient mechanism and structure for the implementation of the whole-of-nation approach to aid in the realization of collective aspirations for inclusive and sustainable peace”.

“No, I don't think so. I think it’s way too early to make that judgment for the NTF-ELCAC. The NTF ELCAC only started to receive a budget for 2020 and a very small one at that for a nationwide program. It was really scaled-up for this year 2021. So it got a budget of around a billion for 2020 and for 2021, the budget is PHP16 billion (for the Barangay Development Program or BDP), but because of lockdowns, we cut it," Angara said in a radio interview, referring to the proposed PHP24 billion cut that will be redirected to health care workers' allowances and other benefits.

Angara said the NTF-ELCAC is a good concept because "you are helping poor villages who are under the control of insurgents," he added in an interview with a news channel.

Angara recalled that as a congressman representing Aurora province, which had long been under the influence of the communist terrorist groups, insurgency taught him that rebel returnees need support in terms of infrastructure, water, and electricity.

“It is a battle for the hearts of minds of the people," he said.

Angara said some senators were not satisfied with an accounting of how the NTF-ELCAC funds were spent.

NTF-ELCAC Vice Chair and National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. assured a more detailed accounting will be made in the next few days.

"I also hope that our senators will take to heart the plight of people in the barangays affected by the prolonged conflict. While I understand that Covid-19 is the clear and present danger that we have to address, I hope they recognize the scourge that has caused stunted growth of the countryside and effect on the nation," Esperon said in a previous interview.

Senator Ronald dela Rosa opposed proposals to cut the task force's budget, which may be down to PHP4 billion, because the development will benefit the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People's Army-National Democratic Front.

Some of the NTF-ELCAC’s funds go to the BDP, which develops former conflict-prone communities with a budget of PHP20 million per village.

Funds are usually spent for farm-to-market roads, classrooms, water and sanitation systems, health stations, and livelihood projects. (PNA)