KIDAPAWAN CITY – North Cotabato Governor Nancy Catamco on Wednesday opposed calls for the abolition of the government’s National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC), saying its programs are more “sustainable” than simply giving “ayuda” to end insurgency in the country.
Executive Order 70 institutionalized in 2018 the whole-of-nation approach and established the NTF-ELCAC as a means to harmonize government development efforts and services to support, facilitate, and pursue the country’s peace agenda by regularly bringing government basic services to the communities in the countryside.
It is a convergence of various government agencies grouped into 12 clusters with their specific mandates.
Since the task force’s creation, about 4,075 members and supporters of the terrorist group have surrendered and withdrawn their support from the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and the New People’s Army.
Catamco thanked the NTF-ELCAC for the support her province has been getting from the security sector to ensure the province is cleared of communist rebels’ influence.
“I believe that NTF-ELCAC has a far more sustainable program in pursuit of peace. Assistance (ayuda) is temporary things and only intends to address emergency needs,” Catamco said in a phone interview here Wednesday as she opposed Vice President Leni Robredo’s plan to abolish the national task force if she becomes the next president.
Catamco said as far as the province of North Cotabato is concerned, no human rights violations or military abuses have been reported in the programs under the NTF-ELCAC.
“The programs (of the NTF-ELCAC) have paved the way for the surrender of many communist rebels who realized there were no grounds to fight the government,” she said of the former rebels who have been reunited with their loved ones.
Former NPA members in North Cotabato have availed of scholarship programs from Technical Education and Skills Development Authority and are now running their livelihood projects, she said.
Through its “whole of nation approach,” Catamco said the NTF-ELCAC has likewise opened its arms to other rebel groups like the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, with a number of their members also returning to the folds of the law.
“My life has changed for good, I am free now, I availed of the government programs for us,” Ka Romy, a former communist NPA member in Arakan, North Cotabato told reporters in a recent interview.
Catamco said the NTF-ELCAC has helped the provincial government bring government services to the masses.
“We are continuously bringing basic government services to the people in communities formerly influenced by communist rebels, and we are happy serving them,” she said.
The governor regularly leads the “Serbisyo Caravan” that goes around remote communities and former NPA-influenced barangays to bring basic government services from the provincial offices of the Department of Health; Department of Social Welfare and Development, Philippine Statistics Office; and the Department of Agriculture, among others.
“The caravan visits remote areas where many villagers say it was their first time to feel government presence in their communities,” Catamco said, adding that removing a successful government program would be a wrong policy.
This year, the NTF-ELCAC has a budget of PHP19.1 billion. For 2022, the program has a proposed budget of PHP24 billion. (PNA)