Senators bewildered at AFP bid for ₱36-M fund to support NTF-ELCAC

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) is asking lawmakers for a P36-million budget for 2022 to support the government's anti-insurgency task force in its efforts against communist rebels.

President Duterte listens to Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana during a briefing at Bahay Malago inside the Presidential Security Group compound on August 15, 2016. (Toto Lozano/PCCO)

During the Senate finance subcommittee's hearing on the P297-billion proposed budget of the Department of National Defense (DND) and its attached agencies Friday, October 1, Senator Panfilo Lacson noted the request of the AFP for P36.807 million as funding for "support to National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC)."

This was listed under the agency's maintenance and other operating expenses (MOOE).

"Medyo maliit pero mayroon nang separate budget 'yong NTF-ELCAC. Bakit meron pang 'support to NTF-ELCAC' (It's quite a small amount, but isn't there a separate budget for the NTF-ELCAC? Why is there a need for funding for 'support to NTF-ELCAC')?" Lacson asked.

Confirming the request, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said AFP will use the fund to assist the task force, as there was no allocation for the purpose in the NTF-ELCAC's proposed P28.1-billion budget for 2022.

He added that the proposed NTF-ELCAC budget would only cover the development projects in areas cleared of communist insurgency.

Lorenzana maintained that concerned line agencies still have to allocate funds to implement the task force's programs. DND is a member of the NTF-ELCAC.

But Lacson said the proposed anti-insurgency fund already included administrative support funds, "so why would DND still support the funding of the NTF-ELCAC?"

Asked by Senator Nancy Binay, Lorenzana disclosed that for 2021, the AFP was given a budget of P120 million for helping the NTF-ELCAC.

The amount was distributed to various army divisions involved in the anti-insurgency campaign, including the Philippine Navy and Philippine Air Force, for "administrative services".

"If you will apportion this to all the units of the Armed Forces, especially the Army -- they have 11 divisions, for the AFP there six area commands -- all having to do the pursuing the activities of the ELCAC, kokonti lang po itong P120 million (this P120 million is paltry)," the DND chief justified.

Lorenzana did not specify the administrative services provided by the AFP to the NTF-ELCAC. Instead, he told the Senate finance panel that they will just submit details on the disbursment of the fund.

Senators have questioned the executive department's plan to increase the allocation of the NTF-ELCAC from this year's P19-billion budget, while reducing funds for government institutions involved in addressing the COVID-19 pandemic.

Binay, for instance, had lamented the reduction in the budget of the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM). She also cited the lack of appropriation for the grant of special risk allowance (SRA) for health care workers.

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, meanwhile, raised suspicion that the NTF-ELCAC funds will be used for the Duterte administration's political agenda in the 2022 elections.

Lacson also believed that the proposed budget for the NTF-ELCAC "is a bit too much".

The NTF-ELCAC is looking to distribute P20 million to 1,406 barangays in the country that were supposedly cleared of influence of communist rebels.