SENATORS on Thursday questioned a P10-billion fund under the anti-communist task force’s proposed 2023 budget, citing the ad hoc body’s failure to use more than half of a similar allocation last year.
Senator Maria Lourdes Nancy S. Binay pointed out during a Senate Finance Committee hearing that only P3.2 billion worth of projects have been completed while another P2.9 billion are ongoing out of a P16.4-billion budget for barangay development.
“So, it’s not even 50% of the P16 billion,” Ms. Binay said in Filipino. “It’s like the projects are still in limbo,” she said.
The body under the Office of the President, formally called the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict’s (NTF-ELCAC), had a total budget of P19.2 billion in 2021 from P1.8 billion the previous year.
The increase was supposedly intended for development projects in barangays, the smallest political unit under the Philippine government system, which are considered free from communist influence.
NTF-ELCAC has a P17.97-billion budget this year and P28.88 billion proposed for 2023.
“How would you justify the additional P10 billion for next year when we don’t even know what’s going on with this project?” Ms. Binay asked.
Budget Undersecretary Tina Rose Marie L. Canda said the additional amounts are supposed to cover barangays cleared of communist groups.
However, she said these are not detailed under the proposed 2023 budget.
“Unfortunately, the projects are identified only during implementation phase,” Ms. Canda said.
Senator Juan Edgardo “Sonny” E. Angara, who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, said this could be considered a form of pork barrel, which has been declared as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.
Ms. Canda explained that they gave the task force “some leeway in the identification of the projects, especially because of the intent of the fund.”
Mr. Angara responded: “We also want to support the program, but let’s apply the same standards across the board, and so if you could give us as detailed a report as possible on the implementation of the program, we would appreciate it,” Mr. Angara said. — Alyssa Nicole O. Tan