Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon on Wednesday warned that the P16.4 billion fund earmarked for the barangay development program of an anti-insurgency task force may be used to advance political interests in the upcoming 2022 elections.
"Next year is an election year and here is a secretariat who would be playing God to the requests of the barangays. I am being candid with you. I am not new in this bureaucracy," Drilon said in a Senate budget hearing.
"I call a spade a spade. You have an agency, not a regular line agency, just somebody, who will be approving and disapproving the requests of barangays, you can imagine the political favors that can be done out of this system," he added.
Drilon also pointed out that the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) was given this amount when other government agencies in need of additional funding were allocated with less.
Under the proposed 2021 national budget, the Department of Labor and Employment gets P15.9 billion, while P7.5 billion was earmarked for Overseas Workers Welfare Administration, P3.5 billion for the Department of Tourism, and P5.5 billion for the Department of Trade and Industry.
"Are we saying that the insurgency is a more serious problem next year than unemployment, than our OFWs, than shutting down of our tourism industry?" he asked.
Budget Secretary Wendel Avisado said he respects the opinion of Drilon on the matter but said the allocation was made on the basis of Executive No. 70 issued by President Rodrigo Duterte in 2018.
He added that the NTF-ELCAC will not be holding the funds as the barangays "cleared" of insurgency would be the ones implementing their community-driven development projects.
"The budget given to this program does not go to NTF-ELCAC. The projects are identified by the barangay themselves. It's just that NTF-ELCAC, being the national secretariat, is the repository of all of these requested projects from the barangays," Avisado said.
"The funds are released directly to the local government units for them to implement and the national task force only serves as the secretariat for this program," he added.
Drilon said he would further look into the allocation in the next budget hearings in the Senate.
The P16 billion fund was also flagged by a lawmaker in the budget hearing of the House of Representative last Friday. ACT Teachers’ Partylist Rep. France Castro said this could just be a "pork barrel" that will go to the Department of the Interior and Local Government.—LDF, GMA News