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Groups criticize NTF-ELCAC’s “questionable” 2021 budget

Progressive groups called attention to the proposed 2021 budget of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC). Reportedly amounting to 19.1 billion, it reached up to 2969% percent from its 2020 budget of 622.3 million.

When President Rodrigo Duterte admitted on state television last August 25 that there would be reduced revenue generation and taxes because Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III was struggling to obtain funds for the COVID-19 response.

Labor group Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) slammed the proposal on August 26, deeming the budget increase questionable. This is despite claiming that money had run out to combat the pandemic. Instead, they said that it was being used to make people’s lives harder.

“Sa panahon pa talaga ng pandemya at krisis at kung kailan binubunganga ni Duterte na wala nang pera, bubuhusan ng pondo ng bayan ang fake news, terror tagging at karahasan na pinapasimunuan ng NTF-ELCAC,”  the KMU said.

The group criticized the decision, for giving more importance to the national government’s “war” over properly funding the healthcare system.

Imbis na tugunan ang pandemya sa pamamagitan ng pagbuhos ng pondo sa pampublikong healthcare system, ang prayoridad ng gobyerno ay lalo pang isapeligro ang buhay ng mamamayan sa hibang na giyera nito,” they added.

Additionally, the KMU questioned why government funds were being given to the NTF-ELCAC when allegedly their main purpose was to spread misinformation and propaganda for Duterte.

Tagapagpakalat ‘yan ng kasinungalingan at propaganda ni Duterte. Ang mas malaking badyet para sa kanila ay higit pang kasinungalingang at panloloko sa taumbayan na ginugutom, pinapabayaan at pinapatay ng rehimeng ito. Ang NTF-ELCAC ay salot sa lipunan, bakit pa popondohan?

Youth group Anakbayan shared a similar sentiment in a statement last August 27, which lamented the budget increase of the task force. They claimed that this was done instead of properly responding to the worst health and economic crisis in history.

“Anakbayan asserts that the over-funding of NTF-ELCAC, the main program guilty of numerous cases of false accusations and fake news against activists and progressive groups; manipulated photos; vast troll armies; trumped up cases; will result in greater corruption,” the group said.

Furthermore, Anakbayan emphasized that the budget increase will likely cause more human rights violations and extra-judicial killings, such as with Randall Echanis and Zara Alvarez.

“What we’ll see are 3000% more lies, 3000% more fake photos, 3000% more baseless accusations and conspiracy theories. We’ll see more harassment, surveillance, and killings of all who express their dissent towards Duterte’s bumbling, fascist rule,” they said.

However, other media outlets have reported a budget of P36.439 billion for NTF-ELCAC in 2020, which Duterte approved back in January. At that time, wide criticism from parties such as the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) Philippines was pointed towards the supposed misprioritization of funds as the budget for NTF-ELCAC was higher than the allotted P33.2 billion pay hike of civilian government employees, and even higher than the P16 billion calamity fund – which was P4 billion lower than the fund in 2019.

On August 24, Bayan Muna Representative Carlos Isagani Zarate wrote a letter to the Commission on Audit (COA) addressing his concerns regarding the budget of the group, focusing on the lack of transparency between the budget and how it is being used.

“In the 2020 GAA, though, it is not easy to locate where the amounts in the preceding paragraph are under the respective departments, except for the P1.08 B fund under the PNP- DILG (Philippine National Police – Department of Interior and Local Government) appropriation for ELCAC,” Zarate said.

Zarate added that the NTF-ELCAC, “ being an Executive-created body”, has to be transparent with regards to the use of public funds for their projects.

The Department of Health (DOH) also had an increase in budget to supposedly enhance their pandemic response. On August 10, Health Undersecretary Marie Vergeire said that the department reportedly set aside P2.4 billion from its 2021 budget for COVID-19 vaccines. However, she noted that this may still change as prices are revealed by manufacturers. This would lead to an estimated 40 million doses of vaccines for 20% of the country’s population, Vergaire added.

Moreover, on June 17, the DOH said that of its P182 billion proposed budget for 2021, P53.20 billion or 29% will be allocated to UHC-related programs, coming higher than the P20.89 billion or 11% allocated for pandemic related proposals.

Misprioritization

Issues have surfaced recently as other sectors experience budget cuts.

The Department of Agriculture (DA) appealed for a budget increase after it saw its 2021 budget slashed by 17%. At P66.4 billion, the budget is 17% lower than the P79.9 billion budget for this year, and 72% lower than the agency’s proposed budget at P240 billion.

Despite heavy calls from lawmakers to increase the funding for this sector due to its role in economic recovery, the sector only ranks seventh, lower than the Departments of Education (DepEd), Public Works and Highways (DPWH), Interior and Local Government (DILG), Defense (DOD), and Social Welfare and Development (DSWD).

“What I know is that [the lawmakers] have identified the sectors of the economy that should be given high priority support. Agriculture was supposed to be the third after health and education,” Agriculture Secretary William Dar said, acknowledging that an increase in budgetary support for agriculture would benefit the economy.

Additionally, the national government approved a P19.7 billion budget for UP in 2021, according to the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) on August 25. While this is P985.6 million higher than the current budget of P18.7 billion, this budget is only 70% of UP’s proposed P28 billion budget. 

This is in contrast to the budget for this year, where the approved budget of P18 billion came from a proposed budget of P47 billion, P20 billion higher than the proposed budget for 2021.

On the university budget

In a report from the Philippine Collegian, the budget cut was seen as problematic as plans of upgrading research facilities may be halted. In UP Diliman (UPD) alone the Philippine Genome Center (PGC) has proposed a repository solely for genetic research information while the Computational Science Research Center (CSRC) has plans to create a Computational and Data Center. 

Moreover, these proposed improvements could help in combating future pandemics and improved research on pathogens.These budget cuts would then hinder these plans, such as with the case of PGC, one of the country’s first testing laboratories for COVID-19.

UPD Vice Chancellor for Research and Development Gonzalo Campoamor II hoped that in the middle of the pandemic the national government would find the importance of long term research.

Gaya ng maraming bagay, nagiging malinaw ang kahalagahan ng pananaliksik sa panahon ng krisis,” said Campoamor.

He added that, while he felt that the proposed budget was lacking compared to other national universities, UP had a duty to make sure that information spread to the Filipinos.

Campoamor believed that, when compared to other universities in other countries, UP has very small funding for research.

Pambansang unibersidad tayo, tungkulin natin ang magserbisyo sa higit na nakararaming tao, hindi lamang sa mas maraming academic fields, Campoamor said.” [P]

Photo from Kilusang Mayo Uno/Twitter

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