'It must be continued': Esperon wants next administration to keep NTF-ELCAC

Published July 21, 2021, 6:01 PM

by Martin Sadongdong

National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. disclosed Wednesday, July 21, that the successor of President Duterte should continue the operations of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) to sustain the gains in putting an end into the 52-year-long insurgency problems in the country.

National Security Adviser Hermogenes C. Esperon Jr. (File photo/ MANILA BULLETIN)

Created in 2018, the anti-communist task force is composed of various government agencies that are tasked to deal with the insurgency problems, particularly that of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and its armed wing, the New People’s Army (NPA).

“The insurgency problem is not the problem of any person, it is the problem of the nation and it has been with us since 1968 at the least. What is the possibility of the next president attending to this? They will have to,” Esperon said during the third leg of the pre-State of the Nation Address (SONA) where the achievements of the Security, Justice, and Peace Cluster were presented.

Under the NTF-ELCAC, a total of 2,965 communist rebels were neutralized in encounters and law enforcement operations, said Esperon who is the task force’s vice chairman.

He said the manpower of communist groups was also reduced to 3,706 this year from its peak of 25,200 in 1987.

Further, the number of barangays under the threat and influence of communist groups declined to 678 from a high of 8,496 in 1986.

Esperon said the task force’s flagship project, the Barangay Development Program (BDP), further encouraged more rebels to return to the fold of the law as this provided them with the most basic of social services.

The BDP consists of projects and activities given to rebel returnees to address the root causes of insurgency that are being exploited by the communist groups.

He said that from 2016 to 2021, a total of 18,433 rebels have surrendered and accepted government aid so they could reintegrate themselves into the mainstream society.

He said 822 barangays that were cleared of communist influence were identified as the first batch of beneficiaries of the BDP and will receive a social development package of P20 million each.

“Bigyan man ng ibang pangalan ito (Even if it is given with a different name), the idea itself that has been formulated or the plan itself must be continued otherwise you will lose the coordination, harmonization, and the oneness of the whole effort,” Esperon said.

“Ngayon kung may susunod na presidente, ayaw ba niya ng (If we elect a new president, will he or she refuse) good governance? Coordination? Harmonization. I don’t see a reason why this could be discontinued,” he noted.

However, the reputation of the NTF-ELCAC has been tainted due to accusations of red-tagging by one of its spokesperson, Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade Jr., against critics of the government.

This led some lawmakers and stakeholders to call for the defunding of the task force and the realignment of its P16.44 billion budget to the country’s COVID-19 pandemic response, which did not materialize.