Designation of 6 add'l spokespersons makes NTF-ELCAC operations even more questionable – senators

Published May 11, 2021, 5:22 PM

by Hannah Torregoza 

Opposition senators on Tuesday questioned the designation of six more spokespersons for the administration’s National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC).

Senator Risa Hontiveros said the performance of the anti-insurgency task force should not be dependent on the number of spokespersons.

“Wala naman sa dami ng spokespersons ang performance ng ahensya. Pagdating sa budget, simple lang: kapag pangit ang performance, kailangang magpaliwanag ng ahensya kung bakit hindi ito dapat babawasan ng pondo (The performance of an agency does not rely on the number of spokespersons they have. When it comes to the budget, it’s simple: when they don’t perform well, the agency should explain why their budget should not be slashed),” Hontiveros said when sought to comment.

“There is an appropriate time to study that. Darating din tayo dyan (We will come to that),” she stressed.

With so many proxies for the agency, Hontiveros said she expects the NTF-ELCAC to be able to respond to lawmakers’ questions regarding its budget once they take the red-tagging and other issues hounding the agency.

“Ngayong may anim pa silang dagdag na tagapagsalita, siguro naman may makakasagot kahit isa: Kailan matatapos ang mga projects na pinondohan ng NTF-ELCAC? (Now that they have six more designated spokespersons maybe they should be able to answer: when will the projects under the NTF-ELCAC stop)?” she said.

“At kailan mailalabas ang natitira pang pera para sa ibang lugar (And when are they going to release the rest of the budget for other places)? Show us results,” she told the agency.

Sen. Francis Pangilinan, for his part, said this is the first he has seen so many spokesperson that would be benefitting from public funding, when the money could have been used to assist persons hugely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

He pointed out that these new spokespersons, while already currently holding government positions, will incur additional expenses for their task under this agency.

“Kataka-taka ano ba talaga ang agenda?…Sana gamitin na lang ‘yung budget nay un para matulungan yung mga pangangailangan n gating mga kababayan,” Pangilinan said in an online press briefing.

“We find this questionable, and when the budget debates come, we will raise this as part of our obligation and our duty to ensure oversight over the executive department,” Pangilinan said.

A total of P19-billion has been earmarked under the 2021 budget for the NTF-ELCAC. Of the amount, P16.4-billion have been allocated for the development of barangays cleared of insurgency.

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon earlier questioned the ‘speedy’ release of the P10.6-billion funds for the NTF-ELCAC following criticisms hurled at the agency for its red-tagging activities against organizers of community pantries.

The Senate earlier adopted Senate Committee Report No. 186, calling for the removal Parlade as NTF-ELCAC’s spokesperson. However, NTF-ELCAC vice chairman Hermogenes Esperon Jr. said the agency will retain him as spokesperson. Esperon also said increasing the number of the agency’s spokespersons is meant to push the task force’s stance on several issues and improve their system of information exchange.

Drilon, however, insisted the decision of the NTF-ELCAC to retain Lt. Gen. Parlade as its spokesperson is a patent violation of the Constitution.

“We will continue to question his appointment as well as the appropriateness of using P16.4-billion in people’s money for anti-insurgency funds instead of using it to expand the ayuda (cash assistance), subsidize the salaries of private sector workers or buy COVID-19 vaccines,” Drilon said in a statement.

“Why would a mere task force need too many mouthpieces? This is unprecedented. This is the first time I am hearing of a mere task force with 8 spokespersons. Is it a judicious use of funds? It only reinforces the fear that NTF-ELCAC is a propaganda machine,” the minority leader stressed.