MANILA – The resounding pleas of local officials to reinstate the PHP28.1-billion budget of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) has gained ground, as it continues to change the perceptions of many legislators especially those in the 2022 Congressional Bicameral Conference Committee (bicam).

Before the 2022 Bicam, Senate Finance Committee chairman Senator Sonny Angara was already convinced that the NTF-ELCAC budget, especially its flagship program, the Barangay Development Program (BDP) will be given a higher budget at the bicam.

Angara said with the recent submission of the NTF-ELCAC’s accomplishment report on the BDP, most of the senators have now a bigger picture of how very important the projects are for barangays in the far-flung areas.

Angara said if they will push through with the additional budget at the bicam, most of the senators would want the funding to be put into the infrastructure component of BDP.

“Basta ang gusto ng mga kasamahan namin, ang gusto ng iba kung dadagdagan natin, huwag natin ilagay sa maintenance expenses. Ilagay natin sa infrastructure, sa mga very visible na makikita ng ating mga kababayan sa kanayunan. Kasi yun naman yung point ng programa at yun ang magugustuhan ng mga kababayan natin (What our colleagues want that if we increase, let’s not put in maintenance expenses. Let’s put it in infrastructure, the very visible ones that our countrymen can see in the countryside. Because that is the purpose of the program and that’s our countrymen want),” he said.

Kapag nakikita nila na may kalsada sila, mayroong patubig, mayroon silang magagandang proyekto mula sa gobyerno nila, ramdam nila yung pag-aruga ng pamahalaan (When they see that they have roads, irrigation, they have good projects from their government, they feel the care of the government),” Angara said.

Angara, however, explained that the massive budget-cut made by the Senate in the NTF-ELCAC proposed budget for the 2022 General Appropriations Act (GAA), was brought about by the delayed report on the BDP, which the Senators later realized was due to the immense scope of the various NTF-ELCAC’s projects targeted and being implemented nationwide.

“Kaya malaki yung cut namin (That’s why we made big cut). Since, they’ve given us reports and out of the 2,300 projects meron ngang so many are nasa pre-procurement stage, yung iba binibid-out na, yung iba under construction na. So, at least nakita namin na meron naman palang napupuntahan yung pera ng ating bayan (many are in the pre-procurement stage, the others are being bid out, the others under construction. So, at least, we saw that the people’s money went to the right projects),” Angara said.

Angara also suggested that the NTF-ELCAC should set aside a budget for its system of monitoring and reporting because of the huge undertaking of the BDP.

“So, dahil nationwide yung mga projects niyan at kalat-kalat, it takes time to gather information, kailangan bawat munisipyo, bawat barangay magre-report sa iyo. Medyo matrabaho nga iyon (because the projects are nationwide and in different areas, it takes time to gather information, every municipal, barangay needs to report. It really requires a lot of work). That’s what the NTF-ELCAC should improve in moving forward para gumanda yung (for good) implementation,” Angara said.

On the other hand, Senator Ronald ‘Bato’ Dela Rosa, a member of the Senate contingent for the 2022 bicam said at Usaping Bayan in SMNI on Tuesday, that what he wanted is for the NTF-ELCAC budget should be at least restored to this year’s PHP19 billion fund.

Being a staunch supporter of the NTF-ELCAC and the BDP, Dela Rosa also said before the start of the bicam, “Actually, I talked to Senator Angara, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, and he gave me the assurance na ire-restore yung (it will be restored) somewhere along the figure for this year.”

Dela Rosa hoped that the NTF-ELCAC budget will be resolved during the small group discussions of the bicam as members of the House of Representatives, including Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez and House Appropriations Committee Chair ACT-CIS Rep. Eric Yap will continue to defend the original NTF-ELCAC budget of PHP28.1 billion.

It can be recalled that President Rodrigo Roa Duterte has already expressed his dismay over the budget cuts and requested Congress to restore the budget of the NTF-ELCAC and the BDP -- a strong deterrent of insurgency, as it brings development to formerly terrorized communities by the Communist Party of the Philippines – New People’s Army – National Democratic Front (CPP-NPA-NDF).

On the other hand, National Security Adviser (NSA) and NTF-ELCAC vice chairman Secretary Hermogenes Esperon reiterated that the BDP is beyond any political agenda but ending local communist armed conflict which continues to hamper the progress and economic development of the whole country, especially in the far-flung barangays.

“Hindi naman politikahan ito (It’s not about politics). This is about ending the local communist armed conflict na kung mawawala ang conflict na ito ay ang makikinabang ay ang buong Pilipinas (that if the conflict is eliminated, the whole Philippines will benefit),” Esperon said.

He added the local leaders are the ones clamoring for the reinstatement of the original BDP budget as the slash would limit the implementation of many of the promised infrastructure projects.

“Tandaan natin yung PHP28.1 billion ay hindi pondo ng NTF-ELCAC iyan. Iyan ay pondo ng Barangay Development Program at diretso iyan na napupunta sa barangay. Mawawala na yung kanilang farm-to-market road at saka yung pinaka importante siguro ay mawawala na din yung classrooms, mawawala na ding yung livelihood projects. At dahil ito ay dapat na PHP20 million bawat barangay (Let’s remember that the PHP28.1 billion is not NTF-ELCAC budget. That’s for BDB and will go directly to barangay. There will be no more farm-to-market roads and most importantly, classrooms and livelihood projects. And because of this every barangay should have PHP20 million),” Esperon said.

Governors Chiz Escudero of Sorsogon, Ben Evardone (Eastern Samar), Nelson Dayanghirang (Davao Oriental), Jayvee Tyron Uy (Davao de Oro), Nancy Catamco (North Cotabato), and Jose Maria Zubiri Jr. (Bukidnon) were also very disappointed with the budget cut made by the Senate.

Many of the governors also said the budget cut would only benefit the CPP-NPA-NDF, as these communist terrorist groups (CTGs) will easily discredit the government efforts for failing to fulfill the promises to the already poverty-stricken barangays.

On the other hand, municipal mayors whose barangays are the target beneficiaries for the implementation of BDP in 2022 were also disheartened and urged their constituents not to vote for senators defunding the NTF-ELCAC. (PR)