₱19B NTF-ELCAC fund stays in Congress-approved budget

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, December 10) — The proposed funding next year for the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict has been retained in the Congress-ratified budget despite criticism of the controversial agency's intensified red-tagging activities.

The Senate and the House of Representatives separately approved on Wednesday the ₱4.5-trillion national budget for 2021, ₱19 billion of which will be spent for the task force's anti-insurgency projects amid the government's promise to revive the economy crippled by the COVID-19 pandemic.

House appropriations committee chair Eric Go Yap and Senate finance committee chair Sonny Angara told the media that they did not reduce anything from the task force's budget, despite calls for it to be defunded for red-tagging even lawmakers.

Under the approved NTF-ELCAC budget, at least ₱16 billion will be spent to implement infrastructure projects and support barangays that were "cleared" of insurgency threats. This is in line with their aim of discouraging residents from helping or joining communist rebels. Some ₱3 billion will then be intended for their operational expenses.

Lawmakers of the Makabayan bloc slammed the budget approval, noting that it could be realigned and spent for typhoon-hit victims instead of threatening activists and the opposition with "vicious red-tagging and harassment." The amount, if allocated through a one-time cash assistance of ₱10,000 could easily cover almost 2 million beneficiaries, they said.

Bayan Muna Party-list Rep. Eufemia Cullamat, a member of the Lumad indigenous group whose daughter died in a clash on November 28 between government troops and the New People's Army, said the government is "wasting billions of funds" that could have been spent for various sectors.

"Bilyones ang winawaldas ng estado para sa pondo ng NTF-ELCAC na dapat ay ilaan sa edukasyon, kalusugan, kabuhayan at iba pang pangangailangan ng sambayanan," Cullamat said Wednesday.

[Translation: The government is wasting billions of funds for the NTF-ELCAC instead of allocating it for education, health, livelihood, and other needs of the people.]

Jevilyn Campos Cullamat, the lawmaker's 22-year-old daughter who served as a medic for the NPA, died in an encounter between the 3rd Special Forces "Arrowhead" Battalion and rebel forces in Marihatag, Surigao del Sur. .

Following Cullamat's death, President Rodrigo Duterte himself warned that Lumads allied with the Communist Party of the Philippines and the NPA will soon become "an extinct tribe" if they do not cut their ties and return to their homes. He also accused the Makabayan bloc of being a legal front for communist groups, which the latter has repeatedly denied.

Duterte also said in his latest public address that a ceasefire with communist rebels will not happen under his term.

In a statement on Thursday, ACT Teachers Rep. France Castro slammed the "worsening culture of impunity" under the Duterte administration, with intensified attacks and intolerance of dissent.

Duterte created the NT-ELCAC in 2018 through Executive Order 70, which calls for a "whole-of-nation approach" to end the CPP-NPA's insurgency. The order also calls for a national peace framework to address the root causes of the insurgency and bring about inclusive and sustainable peace.

The 2021 General Appropriations Bill is now up for signing into law by the President.