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Human rights alliance slams Congress for allocating 17.1bn pesos on NTF-ELCAC

Human rights alliance Karapatan slammed on Thursday the decision of the Congress’ bicameral conference committee to allocate 17.1 billion pesos of the 2022 national budget to the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) which the group said has become a “breeding ground for corruption and human rights violations” as they reasserted their calls for the NTF-ELCAC’s abolition.

“After State auditors flagged several government agencies in their use of funds from the NTF-ELCAC, it is condemnable that the bicam conference committee allotted 17.1 billion pesos to this task force which has basically used and wasted billions of taxpayers’ money to incentivize if not reward brutal human rights violations — from red-tagging to illegal arrests and extrajudicial killings — in the Duterte administration’s counterinsurgency campaigns,” Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay stated.

Last Wednesday, the bicameral conference committee approved the General Appropriations Bill (GAB), allotting more than 5 trillion pesos for the 2022 national budget. The Senate’s version of the GAB initially slashed the NTF-ELCAC’s proposed 28 billion-peso budget to 4 billion pesos but was eventually increased to more than 10 billion pesos. The final version ratified by the bicameral conference committee allocated 17.1 billion pesos to the NTF-ELCAC, which received 19.1 billion pesos this 2021.

Following the decision of the bicameral conference committee, presidential candidate and Manila City Mayor Isko Moreno Moreno told reporters in Iloilo City yesterday that he was not in favor of defunding the NTF-ELCAC. Moreno argued that “the money will stay” to “create jobs instead of intelligence” in conflict-affected communities should he become president. A bulk of the NTF-ELCAC’s allocations next year would go to the projects of the “Barangay Development Program” for “cleared” barangays.

Palabay, however, averred that, “far from creating jobs or fostering ‘development’ in communities, the ‘clearing’ operations as prerequisites for barangays to be qualified to receive 20 million pesos from the so-called ‘Barangay Development Program’ basically enables and rewards the killings, arrests, and harassment, as well as the fake and forced surrenders of activists, human rights defenders, and other community leaders red-tagged as ‘communists’ or ‘terrorists.’”

“The funds for this ‘Barangay Development Program’ are essentially the general’s pork — and with the 2022 national elections drawing near, it should be a cause for alarm and concern that the NTF-ELCAC is set to get billions which could be used to curry favors and influence next year. Funneling more money and resources to the NTF-ELCAC only creates a breeding ground for corruption while funding State repression, violence, and the ‘whole-of-nation’ militarization of the civilian bureaucracy,” she warned.

“For the past three years, the NTF-ELCAC has clearly become the face of Duterte’s de facto martial rule. Far from ending the decades-long armed conflict in the country and attaining ‘inclusive and sustainable peace,’ the NTF-ELCAC has proven to be Duterte’s weapon of choice in his war against dissent. The militarism and fascism that the NTF-ELCAC represents will never resolve the roots of armed conflict, and there is simply no way for it but to be completely abolished,” the Karapatan official ended.