Hontiveros: redirect a portion of P16-B anti-insurgency fund to typhoon Rolly relief, rehab efforts

“Unahin nating bigyang-tulong at pondo ang mga nabiktima ng kalamidad, hindi ang mga ahensiya na puro pagre-redtag at pagkakalat ng fake news ang ginagawa.”

Senator Risa Hontiveros pushed to allot a portion of the P16 billion anti-insurgency fund to relief and rehabilitation efforts of communities badly-hit by Super Typhoon Rolly, instead of funding a controversial program under the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC).

In the agency’s budget proposal for 2021, P16 billion has been allocated to its Barangay Development Program, which has been criticized by senators for being “pork-barrel”-like and prone to abuse.

“Ngayong panahon ng sakuna, ‘di hamak na mas kailangan ng mga kababayan natin sa Bicolandia at sa iba pang mga lugar na nasalanta ng bagyo ang milyon-milyong pondo ng pamahalaan. It is clear that the billions earmarked for NTF-ELCAC would be better spent on helping Filipinos battered by the typhoon get back on their feet,” the senator said.

During the hearing of the Senate Committee on National Defense, Hontiveros noted that NTF-ELCAC has been allocated a proposed budget of P19 billion for 2021— P16 billion of which has been earmarked for its Barangay Development Program.

The senator also previously called for P8 billion of this P16 billion fund to be allocated to health.

Hontiveros added that the budget for NTF-ELCAC is “questionably astronomic” compared to the proposed budgets of key agencies like the Department of Housing Settlements and Urban Development (P632 million), Office of the Ombudsman (P3.36 billion), Department of Budget & Management (P1.9 billion), and even the Department of Finance (P17.46 billion).

“We should not spend such an inordinate amount of time and money on an agency running after ordinary citizens using the communist bogeyman. This is on top of the NTF-ELCAC’s bad track record of spreading fake news and silencing critical and dissenting voices,” the senator said.

About two weeks ago, Hontiveros defended entertainment personalities and women’s rights groups from the red tagging activities of Lt. General Parlade, chief of the Southern Luzon Command of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and NTF-ELCAC spokesperson.

“I cannot begin to imagine the anguish and emotional toll this must have taken on these women who have been directly-hit by these accusations, as well as their families. I am certain that it has also caused a chilling effect on citizens who only want to weigh in on issues of national importance and hold the government to account for its failures to the people,” the senator said.

“The issues of the communist insurgency are not new to me. My party Akbayan historically has called for human rights accountability of non-state actors, at kasama dito ang NPA. I will not hesitate to speak against the violations of the NPA,” added Hontiveros, who was a member of the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) — National Democratic Front (NDF) peace panel on the side of the GRP.

Hontiveros also raised how the Department of National Defense should direct the Armed Forces of the Philippines to address more pressing external national security threats, such as China’s continued incursions in our seas as well as her 40% ownership of a telecommunications company inside our military camps.

The senator then cited the statement of former AFP chief Emmanuel Bautista, who warned that China will seize the Philippines by force if a war were to break out between Beijing and Washington.

“Is this not a more imminent and more compelling threat? Todo nakafocus sa CPP at sa NPA — the remnants of an insurgency facing imminent defeat in the battlefield — pero walang angal na papapasukin sa ating bansa ang isang dayuhang bayan. Sino ba talaga ang pinakamalaking banta sa ating pambansang seguridad? A waning insurgency, or an external threat from a superpower country?” the senator concluded.