Senators push to defund NTF-ELCAC amid red-tagging issue

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, April 22) — Senators are pushing to defund the national anti-communist task force next year following its alleged red-tagging of community pantry organizers.

In an interview with CNN Philippines' The Source on Thursday, Sen. Richard Gordon described the profiling and red-tagging activities of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict as "imbecilic, stupid, and shameful."

"They have no right to do that. People are doing their business in peace. They are not violating the law. Why should they bother with this? Dapat magfocus sila sa iba (They should focus on other matters)," Gordon said.

"Bakit sila nagfo-focus dito sa mga taong tumutulong sa kapwa at nagpapakita ng bayanihan sa ating bayan? I think it’s imbecilic, it’s stupid and shameful," he added.

[Translation: Why are they focusing on people who are simply helping others and showing the 'bayanihan' spirit in the community?]

Gordon also shared the sentiments of his colleagues, including Senator Joel Villanueva, who recently said in a tweet that the government should stop allocating public funds to the NTF-ELCAC and should just “reallocate the current ₱19 billion budget” for financial aid.

"There is nothing to gain from running after people helping other people," Gordon added, "It's a waste of our human resources."

NTF-ELCAC spokesperson Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade recently admitted that they have been doing background checks on community pantry organizers, including leftist groups which may have been "engaging in propaganda" behind such initiatives. In a separate interview, Parlade compared Ana Patricia Non's single-handed organizing of the first community pantry to Satan, acting alone, giving an apple to Eve “where it all started.”

The NTF-ELCAC was given a ₱19-billion budget this year despite criticisms on the agency’s intensified red-tagging activities. Bulk of this will be spent to implement infrastructure projects and support barangays that were cleared of insurgency threats.

Senator Franklin Drilon said President Rodrigo Duterte has the power to realign the NTF-ELCAC budget without waiting for the 2022 budget debates.

"The President should realign the NTF-ELCAC under the 2021 GAA now. Because, as the saying goes: 'Aanhin mo pa ang damo kung patay na ang kabayo? (What good will the grass bring if the horse is already dead?)'” he said.

In an interview with CNN Philippines’ News Night, Senator Nancy Binay said it is “high-time” to review the budget of the said task force for the following year, adding that the priority should not be communist problems but pandemic response.

Relieve Parlade?

Meanwhile, two senators suggested the relief of some NTC-ELCAC officials instead of defunding the task force altogether.

“We should not be hasty in blaming a good program because of irresponsible statements from some officials. Replace the officials instead," Senate President Vicente Sotto III said in a statement.

Sen. Panfilo Lacson said that he has long been pushing for the relief of Parlade, "not only because his civilian position is violative of the Constitution," but because he has become a “liability” in the government's efforts.

Inspired by the first community pantry organized by Non, other Filipinos have come up with similar projects in various parts of the country to help residents in their respective communities. However, some organizers have alleged they were being profiled or red-tagged by anti-communist task force officers

Senators and local chief executives have expressed their support for the community pantries amid this security issue.

READ: What to do when cops approach your community pantry