Senator Sonny Angara on Thursday, Nov. 11 rejected insinuations made by a colleague that the Senate could be seen as a supporter of the New Peoples’ Army (NPA) if the funding for the government’s anti-insurgency task force would suffer drastic cuts.
Angara, during the continuation of the Senate’s plenary deliberation on the proposed 2022 national budet, said that based on the documents submitted to the Senate Finance Committee, only 26 out of the total 2, 318 projects under the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict’s (NTF-ELCAC) Barangay Development Fund that was worth P16.4-billion have been completed.
The documents, he also said, showed that 700 more projects are still in the procurement stage, 560 are still being implemented.
On top of it, the letter from the NTF-ELCAC clarifying their expenditures was sent only after the Senate decided to cut its budget for next year from P28-billion to just P4-billion.
Upon hearing Angara’s explanation, Sen. Ronald “Bato” Dela Rosa protested the budget cut and warned that the Senate could be regarded a supporter of the NPA and other communist groups as he reiterated that proposed anti-insurgency funds is meant to usher development to communities to prevent them from joining rebel groups.
But Senate President Vicente Sotto III explained the Senate’s decision to cut the NTF-ELCAC budget was due to the agency’s failure to explain how they utilized their funding.
Angara agreed and noted that the NTF-ELCAC do not even have a copy of the report when their budget was slashed by P24-billion.
“We had no way of knowing because there was nothing before us. We requested all the agencies to submit something, but when we did the cut last week, we had nothing, we had no information,” Angara explained.
“This information I’m reading, we only received this Monday,” he added.
This prodded Dela Rosa to question why the NTF-ELCAC budget is being singled out pointing out that other agencies also have a lot of unimplemented projects.
But Angara stood firm saying what the Senate is doing to NTF-ELCAC also applies to other agencies who fail to submit details of how they utilized their funds and those who have a low implementation rate.
“Actually ‘yon talaga ang ginagawa natin your Honor, ‘pag mabagal po ang implementation ng isang ahensya, ‘pag mababa po ang utilization, ‘pag mababa ang obligation, (That is what we are actually doing, your honor. When agencies are slow in implementation or they have a low utilization rate, or a low obligation rate), we really cut their budgets your Honor,” Angara told Dela Rosa.
The Senate finance panel chief said the Senate has to find funding to boost the government’s COVID-19 response, in particular, find sufficient budget to fund the special allowances of health workers pointing out they have been threatening to boycott hospitals.
Angara said this could derail the government’s fight against the coronavirus and delay the country’s economic recovery.
“We had to source P51-billion out of existing funds, we cannot just say that by the stroke of the pen, we add P51-billion to the budget of the government of the Philippines. Hindi po natin pwedeng gawin ‘yon (We cannot do that),” the senator emphasized.