Local execs warn of protest in Senate over NTF-ELCAC budget cut

Several governors and mayors have vowed to troop to the Senate to hold protest action over the huge budget cut in the Barangay Development Program for New Peoples’ Army (NPA)-cleared barangays of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) in the 2022 budget.

Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) Undersecretary Jonathan Malaya said the budget cut, from P28.1 billion to P24 billion, will render the cleared barangays vulnerable anew to communist aggression.

He noted that the governors and mayors have organized local peace processes in their areas with the local government units (LGUs) gaining “an upper hand against communist terrorism’’ but cutting the budget for barangay development will “undermine their gains and is tantamount to sending the people back to the clutches of communist terrorists.’’

The DILG spokesman insisted that cutting the SBDP budget will detrimental to the country’s peace initiatives and campaign against communist terrorism “as this would mean a very small to no allocation at all for the cleared barangays for the implementation of basic infrastructure and development projects.’’

“We should not go back to square one now that the endgame is near for the communist terrorist groups (CTGs). Huwag nating ipagkait ang tsansa na tuluyan nang makabangon at umunlad ang mga barangay na dati ay pinamugaran at binusabos ng mga CTGs (communist terrorist groups) (Let us not deny the chance for the barangays to recover and progress that were previously the haven and slaves of the CTGs),’’ Malaya stressed.

Malaya clarified that “the so-called low absorption of the 2021 SBDP budget was because infrastructure projects follow a process and a timeline mandated by Republic Act 9184 or the Procurement Act but the non-infrastructure projects like the seed capital, livelihood assistance and rice harvesters have already been completed.’’

He added that lockdowns necessitated by the coronavirus disease-2019 (COVID-19) also significantly contributed to the delay in the implementation of the infrastructure projects.

In the NTF-ELCAC weekly press conference on Nov. 22, Gov. Nelson Dayanghirang of Davao Oriental, Gov. Arthur Yap of Bohol, Gov. Ben Evardone of Eastern Samar and Municipal Mayor Eric Constantino of Abra de Ilog, Occidental Mindoro said they are ready to lead their fellow local officials to the Senate vowing their intention to campaign against the senators who will vote for the reduction of the SBDP allocation in next year’s general appropriations act (GAA).

Dayanghirang said Davao Oriental was declared insurgency-free in 2013 but the communists have been trying to recover lost ground.

“It was only when basic infrastructure and services through the SBDP were initiated in far-flung barangays that the local government units (LGUs) are again winning the war against communist terrorist groups (CTGs). The people will lose their trust in the government if the promised projects do not materialize,” Dayanghirang said.

On the other hand, Yap said that through the years, the government has invested more than P30 billion to make Bohol a tourism destination including a new airport and ports and they need at least P5-billion more for these much needed local access road projects that will hopefully bring farm goods to the markets.

He estimated that Bohol is capable of earning P15 billion to P20 billion a year as a tourism, trade and commerce hub and the proposed SBDP-funded local road projects is “the missing key to the province’s economic recovery amid the COVID-19 pandemic.”

For his part, Evardone said the “pandemic of insurgency” has lasted much longer than COVID-19 stressing that “the government is on the verge of defeating terrorism and the freed barangays are the ones who direly need the government support, thus, the SBDP funds must not be withheld.’’

“In the case of Bohol, scrapping the SBDP projects might re-ignite insurgency there. What will happen to all that the government has invested in it? Same with Eastern Samar. Magkakaroon uli ng peace and order issue at imbes na mawala ay lumakas at kumalat ang insurgency,” Evardone stressed.

He added that the LGUs’ limited resources cannot cover all the projects they want to implement so the SBDP augmented their efforts.

Earlier, the League of Provinces of the Philippines (LPP) passed resolution no. 2021-009 supporting the President’s anti-insurgency program and urging the Senate to approve in full the proposed SBDP in the 2022 General Appropriations Bill.

Meanwhile, Constantino said the beneficiaries of the SBDP projects in Abra de Ilog, Occidental Mindoro are the indigenous people, who “comprise the bulk of recruitment by CTGs dahil nasa malalayong lugar at di maramdaman ang serbisyo ng gobyerno (because they are fsr-flung areas where government service are unfelt).”

He disclosed that the Serbisyo Caravans have greatly benefitted his people and brought government presence to the far-flung communities.

Constantino also recalled that his municipality was a hotbed of insurgency in the 1980s and the CTGs even took over the municipal hall in 1988.

Now that it is finally cleared, Constantino claimed that the communists are trying to recover lost ground to the extent that the regional headquarters of the CPP-NPA was relocated to Occidental Mindoro.

“It’s very important to sustain the gains of the government now that the people have realized who really cares for them. Where the road ends, that’s where terrorism begins. Where the light does not shine, that’s where terrorism begins,” Constantino said.

Among the proposed SBDP projects in the town of Abra de Ilog are street lights with solar-powered charging stations, potable water systems, school buildings, and livelihood assistance. (Chito A. Chavez)