Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon on Thursday dared President Rodrigo Duterte to realign the allocated for the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) amid its red-tagging activities which recently targeted the organizers of community pantries.
Reiterating his call to source funds for the third Bayanihan measure from the massive budget for the government’s intelligence and anti-insurgency efforts, Drilon said he is “glad” that his colleagues in the Senate are now echoing his sentiment as he urged the President to make his move.
“I am glad that my colleagues joined me in that call. But we do not have to wait for the 2022 budget debates to defund NTF-ELCAC. 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?” he said in a statement to reporters.
At least five other senators on Thursday aired their intention to withdraw funding for NTF-ELCAC in the next budget season following the remark of its mouthpiece Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade likening the community pantries to Satan’s Apple.
The inter-agency under the Office of the President is enjoying a P19-billion budget for 2021 despite the repeated calls from opposition senators to realign its funds to augment the country’s pandemic response.
Among the lawmakers who questioned its massive funding is Senator Risa Hontiveros who said that she rejects the creation of the NTF-ELCAC from the start.
In a virtual presser, the senator expressed support for its defunding saying she agrees to it “100 percent.”
“I welcome and salute my colleagues from the Senate Majority who are criticizing the recent acts of NTF-ELCAC against the most unlikely and most undeserving – community pantries,” she told reporters.
During the same day, Hontiveros filed Resolution No. 705 which condemns the acts of harassment, red-tagging and intimidation especially by national government officials conducting community pantries in various locations in the Philippines.
Ana Patricia Non, the figure behind the launch of Maginhawa community pantry in Quezon City temporarily suspended its operation on 20 April in fear for her safety after two government pages — the Quezon City Police District and NTF-ELCAC– accused her of having links with terrorist organizations in two separate social media posts.
Non shared her experience in a Facebook post where she revealed that three police officers asked for her contact details and what organization she belongs to.
Parlade admitted the profiling, although he dismissed it as mere background checking.
In denouncing the red-baiting against Non, Senator Nancy Binay vowed that the funding for the attached agency will “go through a fine-toothed comb” during the next budget season.
“In just a few months, the Senate will start deliberating on the 2022 budget. Due to the ill-experiences of red-tagging and baseless intel, we will definitely make sure that the NTF-ELCAC budget will go through a fine-toothed comb in the Senate,” Binay said in a statement.
“Since we are lacking in the pandemic response, I think it will be better that Gen Parlade will do “contact tracing” for Covid-19 instead of “profiling”, she added.
Her statement was backed by Senator Richard Gordon who did not mince his words in criticizing the reported profiling and red-baiting of uniformed officials.
He described the recent acts as a “waste of human resources” and said that instead of “harassing” private individuals who wanted to help in alleviating hunger during the pandemic, the government inter-agency should use its funds wisely in preventing and solving crimes.
“There’s nothing to be gained by running after people who are just helping. Even if they have an agenda, they are still extending help. If we are going to discredit their efforts as mere politicking, they will be discouraged. It’s (profiling) a waste of human resources specially policemen,” the senator said during an interview over CNN Philippines.
“Helping our people is natural to us and there are plenty of other things we can focus on. General Parlade and company should stop bothering these people and let them help. I think (what they’re doing) is imbecilic, stupid and shameful,” he added.
Senators Joel Villanueva and Sherwin Gatchalian expressed similar intention in an exchange of tweets where the former suggested the realignment of the P19-billion fund for additional subsidy for low-income families who were battered by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Senate President Vicente Sotto, meanwhile, negated the mutual opinions of his colleagues as he junked the proposal to defund the NTF-ELCAC.
Instead of withdrawing its fund, Sotto said the government should just replace its officials.
“I believe the NTF-ELCAC program is good. Defunding it would give back the gains of the government to the rebels. We should not be hasty in blaming a good program because of irresponsible statements from some officials. Replace the officials instead,” he said in a text message.
Senator Sonny Angara, chairman of the Senate Committee on Finance, expressed openness in discussing the possible withdrawal warning the said officials that they should be “more cautious and circumspect in their statements”.
“No budget yet for 2022 we can tackle at the proper time, usually a few weeks after SONA. They should be more cautious and circumspect in their statements,” he said.
This is not the first time that the NTF-ELCAC was moored in controversies due to its reckless red-baiting.
Earlier this month, the union of employees working in the Upper Chamber dubbed as Sandigan ng mga Empleyadong Nagkakaisa sa Adhikain ng Demokratikong Organisasyon (SENADO) denounced the agency after it linked the members of the organization to the communist party.
The Senate Minority bloc defended the group from the malicious attacks saying that it is a legitimate union of employees that have been upholding solely the interest and welfare of its members for years.
To put an end to red-tagging, Drilon filed Senate Bill 2121 on 5 March which seeks to criminalize red-tagging and provide penalties “in order to fix the legal gaps, address impunity and institutionalize a system of accountability.
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