'Irrational, politically motivated': Esperon hits VP Leni's proposal to use anti-insurgency funds for 'ayuda'

National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. did not mince his words in criticizing Vice President Leni Robredo and some "senior senators" over their proposal to realign the multi-billion peso budget of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) for the social amelioration program or "ayuda" of residents affected by the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ).

National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. (REY BANIQUET/Presidential Photo / MANILA BULLETIN FILE PHOTO)

Esperon, also the vice chairman of the NTF-ELCAC, said Monday, August 9, that such proposal was "irrational" and only made "to get public votes" for the upcoming 2022 national elections.

"We have been hearing statements from lawmakers, especially senior senators, that always urge or recommend that the NTF-ELCAC funds must be used now for the social amelioration program," Esperon said at a virtual press briefing

"Mayroon namang statement sa ating kagalang-galang na Vice President na sinasabi niyang ang NTF-ELCAC funds ay i-pullout na lang para gamitin dito sa ating mga pangangailangan sa ayuda (The Honorable Vice President also issued a statement calling for the pull out of the NTF-ELCAC funds to address the need for funds for cash assistance)," he stated.

"Bakit naman NTF-ELCAC pa ang panggagalingan (Why does it have to be sourced from the NTF-ELCAC)? Kasi parang (Because) they make it appear that the NTF-ELCAC is so insensitive and irrelevant in addressing the effects of the pandemic especially to those who are in need of Social Amelioration Program or ayuda," he continued.

"Alam kong malapit na ang eleksyon (I know that the election is near) but let us not keep issuing self-serving political statements that carry to... siguro para mahikayat na mapunta sa kanila ang mga boto (probably to entice voters). I do not want to go into that but it looks like that the statements are so irrational and not backed up by realities on the ground na baka sinasabi lang iyan para mapalapit sila sa mga botante (that maybe they say that just to get the approval of the voters)," he added.

Created by President Duterte in 2018, the NTF-ELCAC was given a budget of P19.13 billion by the national government from the General Approprioations Act (GAA) of 2021 to end the 53-year-long "scourge" of the Communist Party of the Philippines, New People's Army, and National Democratic Front (CPP-NPA-NDF).

Majority of the budget, or P16.44 billion, was alloted for its flagship project, the Barangay Development Program (BDP), which seeks to deliver social and infrastructure development packages in 822 barangays that were cleared of communist influence from 2016 to 2019. The remaining P2.69 billion were intended for the operational expenses of the task force.

Last week, Robredo, who has been rumored to be gunning for a higher office in 2022, called on the government to reallocate the NTF-ELCAC's fund for the needed ayuda of ECQ-affected residents in Metro Manila and other areas that are estimated to go over P10 billion.

Although Esperon did not mention the names of the lawmakers he was criticizing, in April, similar calls for fund realignment had been made by senior lawmakers such as Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon and Senator Joel Villanueva among others after the task force was accused of red-tagging community pantries.

But Esperon argued that while COVID-19 pandemic is the "clear and present danger," it is "not the only threat or concern" of the government.

He said the NTF-ELCAC has been building farm-to-market roads, schoolbuildings, health stations, water and electric facilities as well as bringing various job trainings in conflicted areas or former guerilla bases.

"The people in these areas have been eternally underserved, neglected, or made the last priority when in fact they deserve more," said President Duterte's top security adviser.

"This insurgency is more than a blackeye to the country and to the prestige of the Filipinos. They have not yet fully addressed the issues of poverty, injustice, illiteracy, and disease and these are issues being used by the force of the CPP-NPA whose ulterior move or end goal anyway is, of course, to take over government through armed rebellion or through terrorism," he stated.

Esperon appealed to government officials not to politicize the NTF-ELCAC and the BDP by defunding it to address the lack of budget in other government programs.

"I really think we should not politicize the BDP. Let us not equate BDP as equivalent to abandoning the victims of COVID-19," he said.

"Let us remember na mayroon din tayong ina-address na 53-year-scourge and I don't know if the leaders that I have mentioned are aware na kailangan din nating solvin itong insurgency natin (Let us remember that we are also addressing a 53-year-scourge and I don't know if the leaders that I have mentioned are aware that we also need to solve our insurgency problems)," he concluded.