The P19-billion question

Published November 20, 2020, 11:20 PM

by Tonyo Cruz


Tonyo Cruz
Tonyo Cruz

The 2021 budget for President Duterte’s anti-communist task force, known as NTF-ECLAC, is P19 billion, which some say is only a tiny fraction of the P4.5-trillion total national budget for next year.

Many would argue it is a total waste of taxpayer money and clearly a non-productive expense. Public finance analysts would also add that the amount is prone to corruption, abuse and misuse.

The amount is not small, really.

For instance, the P19-billion NTF-ECLAC is bigger than the P15-billion Philhealth scam.

It is nearly twice bigger than the P10-billion budget for COVID19 testing.

It is almost eight times bigger than the initial P2.5-billion budget for COVID vaccines. The health department estimates that P20 billion would be needed to vaccinate 20 percent of the population. The government claims there’s no money for that, but there’s money for NTF-ECLAC.

It also dwarfs the P4.8-billion budget for the DOH Health Facilities Enhancement Program. (The government reduced the budget for this health expenditure. Its 2020 budget was P8.4-billion.) The NTF-ECLAC seems more important than improving health facilities.

The P19-billion NTF-ECLAC budget could buy entry-level laptops for all senior high school students. The same amount could provide laptops to all the nearly 900,000 teachers and teaching personnel under DepEd. Secretary Leonor Briones tells parents, students, and teachers to fend for themselves, but there’s P19-billion for NTF-ECLAC.

Phivolcs suffered a budget cut of P133-million, that would have gone to new stations and equipment. But NTF-ECLAC got 142 times that amount.

Our weather bureau, PAGASA, suffered a whopping P1-billion budget cut for 2021. And yet the government, including Congress, has no qualms giving P19-billion for NTF-ECLAC.

In fact, the total 2020 budget for the Department of Science and Technology was P20.1 billion. Compare that with the NTF-ECLAC’s P19-billion.

NTF-ECLAC’s P19-billion budget is bigger than the P16-billion allocation for the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council for 2020. Responding to the devastation of typhoons, earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions seems to be less important, compared to red-baiting and red-tagging.

We could go on, but I’m sure the point has been made.

The allotment of P19-billion for NTF-ECLAC is truly unconscionable, in the face of many more important matters like health, education, science, and disaster response.

It is also a gross waste of precious public funds

For example, NTF-ECLAC’s so-called legal offensives against lawmakers, activists, and others it has branded as “communist fronts” have all failed. Just recently, the Supreme Court and the Justice Department dismissed two of these taxpayer-funded red-tagging cases for lack of merit and lack of evidence.

The NTF-ECLACs European tour, led by Gen. Antonio Parlade and Undersecretary Lorraine Badoy, was a dud. The European Union Parliament ignored the duo and instead adopted a resolution denouncing the human rights record of the Duterte administration and calling for an end to extrajudicial killings.

Another instance of waste by way are the amazing “mass surrenders” of alleged New People’s Army rebels, paraded regularly by the NTF-ECLAC and the Armed Forces of the Philippines. The total number of “surrenderees” claimed by the NTF-ECLAC and the AFP has exceeded their own estimates of the NPA’s armed strength.

One thing could explain this: money. The NTF-ECLAC and the AFP oversee a massive reward system for both the commanding officers who report surrenders, and for the “surrenderees” they present. Even the rewards supposedly going to “surrenderees” are in flux: some Army officers say P15,000. Some as high as P80,0000.

And out of the tens of thousands of these “surrenderees” who the NTF-ECLAC and the AFP claim to be real rebels, the government has not been able to produce a provincial or regional commander or Communist Party leader as a credible witness.

Congress should thus assert the “power of the purse” and take back the P19-billion from the NTF-ECLAC.

The country could immediately save and free up P19-billion for more productive and more important expenditures, by defunding the NTF-ECLAC. Instead, the government could go back to the negotiating table with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines. Not only will it save precious public funds; the talks would address the root causes of the armed conflict, and bind both the government and the NDFP to agreements on social and economic reforms, and constitutional and political reforms.

Defunding NTF-ECLAC should also mean abolishing it. Because instead of falsely targeting fellow Filipinos, the government should confront the biggest national security threat to the country – the Chinese incursions on Philippine sovereignty territory and domestic jobs.