Esperon defends NTF-ELCAC budget anew amid calls for defunding

Published April 25, 2021, 1:26 PM

by Manila Bulletin

“Why take back the Barangay Development Program that was allotted for communities that need it most?”

This was the question posed by National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. Sunday, April 25, as he reacted to calls by lawmakers to defund the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) over the “red-tagging” of its spokespersons on some organizers of the community pantries.

“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,” said Esperon, who serves as the vice chairman of the anti-communist task force.

Prior to this, senators and congressmen called for the realignment and audit of the NTF-ELCAC’s P19-B budget this year after its spokespersons, Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade and Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) Undersecretary Lorraine Badoy, linked the community pantry initiative to the communist movement.

The red-tagging forced the Maginhawa Community Pantry in Quezon City, the initiative organized by Ana Patricia Non which inspired the establishment of more than 300 other pantries across the country, to temporarily stop its operations. The community pantry offers free food and other basic necessities to people affected by the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.

Senator Joel Villanueva said in a tweet Thursday, April 22, that the budget of the NTF-ELCAC should instead be used in the government’s pandemic response.

“We should move to defund the NTF-ELCAC in the next budget. The people’s money are just being wasted. Reallocate the current P19 billion budget for ‘ayuda.’ The money is more needed by the people instead of them,” the senator said. This was backed by at least five other senators.

Parlade called the senators “stupid” for wanting to defund the NTF-ELCAC, and said they should just remove him from the task force instead of defunding them.

Meanwhile, House deputy speaker Mikee Romero, Rep. Juliette Uy, vice chairperson of the House appropriations committee, and Rep. Jocelyn Tulfo, vice chairperson of the overseas workers affairs committee, called for a congressional inquiry to determine the status of the NTF-ELCAC’s budget spending.

But Esperon insisted that the fund allotted by the Congress for the implementation of the BDP will be used to bring “sustainable grassroots development and empowerment” to more than 800 communities that were cleared of communist insurgency.

“It is fairly easy to make speculations thus far on [the] misuse of the BDP funds but to substantiate allegations is a matter that requires comprehensive investigations altogether,” the security official said.

To prevent Parlade and Badoy from endangering the task force’s budget, Esperon reportedly ordered the two spokespersons to stop making statements about the community pantry and imposed them a gag order.

For his part, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana denied that Parlade, who is also the commander of the military’s Southern Luzon Command, was issued a cease and desist order because of his red-tagging of community pantry organizers.

“None!” was Lorenzana’s brief response when asked if Parlade was given a gag order.