House Ways and Means chair Joey Salceda (File photo)
MANILA – A House of Representative leader on Thursday said some PHP16 billion worth of projects classified under the budget of the National Task Force for Ending Communist Local Armed Conflict (NTF-ECLAC) should be kept with “some adjustment” toward areas hard-hit by recent typhoons.
House Ways and Means chair Joey Salceda said the budgetary items, which is similar to bottom-up budgeting, allocated for the anti-insurgency task force might seem like a direct national security budget when the funds are actually for countryside development.
“The idea is that when you build roads in the countryside, you are creating opportunities for economic development, and minimizing the incentives for joining armed conflict,” Salceda said.
He, however, noted that there should be some space for realigning some non-urgent projects toward Albay, Catanduanes, and other hard-hit areas.
He explained that spending on programs towards economic development in the countryside is the most effective way to “rid armed conflict of breathing space because it feeds on resentment”.
“After all, if these provinces can recover faster, and the infrastructure in far-flung areas of these provinces is tended to, the rationale for insurgency is drastically reduced,” Salceda said. “I’ll bring the matter of adjustment up to the bicameral conference committee.”
He said countryside development programs under the NTF-ELCAC is an acknowledgment that some solutions are not military in nature.
Salceda said the economic toll of Super Typhoon Rolly is estimated to be at least PHP21 billion, noting that some of the countryside development projects under the task force can mitigate the damage.
“We can have a conversation on what items under countryside development projects of the task force can be redirected and/or optimized to help this recovery. That would be a productive conversation,” Salceda said.
He stressed that these non-military interventions are important, as they diffuse government assistance to the poorest reaches of the country.
“I support these programs, and I am open to conversations on adjusting them,” Salceda said.
Malacañang has supported a senator’s proposal to realign a portion of the PHP16.4-billion anti-insurgency fund to relief and rehabilitation efforts for communities affected by “Rolly”.
Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque explained that it was the mandate of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) to promote the development of areas “with ongoing insurgencies”.
“I think that is the objective of ELCAC. The objective of the ELCAC is to promote development in areas with ongoing insurgencies because we know that poverty is the root cause of insurgency,” Roque said in an interview over CNN Philippines’ The Source on Wednesday.
He pointed out that since some villages in the Bicol Region are affected by insurgency, part of the NTF-ELCAC’s funds may be used to help Filipinos recover from the calamity.
Senator Risa Hontiveros on Tuesday said a portion of the NTF-ELCAC’s funds may be used to help Filipinos battered by the typhoon get back on their feet.
She pointed out that the budget for NTF-ELCAC is “questionably astronomic” compared to the proposed budgets of other key agencies.
The NTF-ELCAC has been allocated a proposed budget of PHP19-billion for 2021. Of this amount, PHP16.4-billion has been earmarked for its Barangay Development Program. (PNA)