Esperon defends NTF-ELCAC's budget amid defunding calls

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, April 25) -- National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon, Jr. on Sunday assured there is no misuse of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict's funds following calls from some lawmakers to realign its budget.

"Why take back the BDP (barangay development program) that was allotted for communities that need it the most?" said Esperon, who also acts as task force vice chairperson, in a statement.

The NTF-ELCAC has a ₱19-billion budget for 2021, with around ₱16 billion to be spent for its BDP as incentives for barangays that were cleared of insurgency threats.

Esperon said defunding the national anti-communist task force would affect its anti-insurgency efforts in communities.

"We at the NTF-ELCAC have nothing to gain from the BDP apart from the fulfillment of our legal mandate," said Esperon. "The failure to deliver this program would not just mean frustration among us at NTF-ELCAC and the principles that we stand for. Rather, the failure to deliver the barangay development program to the formerly conflicted communities that need it the most is tantamount to abandoning their aspirations for a dignified life."

Calls to defund the NTF-ELCAC stemmed after two of its spokespersons were criticized for red-tagging community pantry volunteers and organizers. Esperon has already imposed a gag order on Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade and Communications Undersecretary Lorraine Badoy.

According to Esperon, the BDP's core programs and projects seek to develop farm-to-market roads, classrooms, water and sanitation systems, health stations, and livelihood projects.

"As the vice chair of the NTF-ELCAC, I take cognizance of the pronouncements not just of our good senators and honorable representatives in Congress but also of the calls of the general public elsewhere on the BDP," said the military official. "Allow me to reassure the public that the package of programs under the BDP is released following the stringent evaluation of the government agencies concerned."

As of April 3, a total of 525 out of 822 barangays nationwide have already endorsed their respective anti-insurgency programs and projects to the Department of Budget and Management.

"It is fairly easy to make speculations thus far on misuse of the BDP funds, but to substantiate allegations is a matter that requires comprehensive investigations altogether. Nevertheless, I implore all the concerned stakeholders and the general public to understand the import of what the NTF-ELCAC and the BDP seek to accomplish," said Esperon.