Senate cuts NTF-ELCAC budget, groups want more

Nov. 12, 2021

After the Senate slashed the 2022 budget of the controversial National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC), advocacy groups lauded the move and pushed further for the task force’s abolition.

“Contrary to its name to end local armed conflict, the NTF-ELCAC becomes a hindrance to the promise of peace,” the Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform (PEPP) said in a statement.

The Senate finance committee on Tuesday slashed the proposed P24 billion budget of NTF-ELCAC for 2022 down to P4 billion.

PEPP, which has engaged both the government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines peace panels, noted that the NTF-ELCAC has become “the critical weapon in the total war against the so-called terrorists.”

The group said the total war campaign of the Duterte government since 2018 had negative results because of the violence it causes.

“We are witnesses to the results of this total war strategy of the government as seen in the numerous killings, threats, harassment, and bombing and restriction of movements of farming and indigenous communities in remote rural areas as in the recent case of aerial bombing in the Bukidnon hinterlands.”

Related: Cagayan de Oro bishop, peace group condemns murder of peace consultant Echanis

The Save Our Schools Network meanwhile pointed out that the NTF-ELCAC is responsible for the red-tagging and closure of 216 Lumad schools in Mindanao.

“Since the establishment of the NTF-ELCAC, Lumad students, teachers and communities have been at the center of relentless attacks. In connivance with NCIP (National Commission in Indigenous Peoples), AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) and other government agencies, NTF-ELCAC continue to threaten and harass Lumad evacuees and advocates even in their sanctuaries” the group said.

In 2019, NTF-ELCAC Vice Chairman and National Security Adviser General Hermogenes Esperon Jr issued a recommendation to the Department of Education to close the 54 campuses of the Salugpongan Community Learning Center in Davao Region.

Another issue raised against the task force is its propensity to red-tag institutions and personalities who are critical to the Duterte administration.

The PEPP said even church organizations, leaders and members were red-tagged.

The group also held the NTF-ELCAC “responsible for the withdrawal of the publications of the NDFP from several state universities, among them being the printed agreements related to the peace talks.”

The NTF-ELCAC was formed after President Rodrigo Duterte called off peace talks in late 2018.

The anti-communist task force was given a whopping P19 billion fund, with Davao Region receiving the biggest share of P4 billion.

A Rappler report showed Esperon defended the 2021 budget intended for barangay livelihood programs with the goal of “clearing” barangays from insurgency.

But the Senate, during its budget deliberations, raised issues such as the misuse and lack of auditing of the funds of the NTF-ELCAC.

Aside from this, the Senate also held hearings questioning the extent of the red-tagging activities that even targeted celebrities.

The Senate also pointed out the need to defund NTF-ELCAC and rechannel other allocations to focus on a “COVID-19 recovery budget” to the health sector in this pandemic.

The PEPP hopes that heading to the 2022 elections, the communist insurgency problem may be addressed through the resumption of peace talks.

The Save Our Schools lauded Vice President Leni Robredo who recently supported calls for the abolition of the NTF-ELCAC and hopes other candidates can resonate this call.

comments powered by Disqus