The Senate’s issue with the NTF-ELCAC was that, among so many criticisms about the government’s counterinsurgency program, it could not even account for the huge funding it received last year. Last week, it imposed a drastic cut on its 2022 budget, from a proposed P28 billion to a mere P4 billion.
The Senate’s action was a damning rejection of the Duterte administration’s counterinsurgency program lodged under the grammar-challenged National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC), an agency that is essentially an iteration of the Department of National Defense.
Since its inception in 2018 via a presidential order, the NTF-ELCAC has enjoyed preferential budget allocation for an office that is essentially a committee composed of various executive departments. Senator Sonny Angara, chair of the senate finance committee, who announced a P24 billion budget cut for the agency’s proposed 2022 budget, faulted the NTF-ELCAC for not being able to even submit a report justifying its P19 billion budget for this year.
The administration has objected to the severe budget cut, warning that it could set back the current government’s achievements in curtailing the New People’s Army (NPA) threat using the “whole of nation” concept or strategy.
The Senate budget deliberation was the only forum of note that government policy-makers had been able to assess the effectiveness of the current administration’s approach to counterinsurgency. The debate ended with most of the senators, even including administration allies, remaining critical of it.
As its mandate states, the core program of the NTF-ELCAC is focused on interventions in the barangays that are supposedly cleared of NPA influence and paves the way for their local economic recovery. Currently, an allocation of P20 million is given to those barangays where the NPAs are supposed to have been defeated or pushed back. There is also one that deals with providing livelihood assistance to “rebel returnees”.
According to National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon when he was in Palawan recently, some 35 barangays are assured this coming year of receiving their P20 million in Barangay Development Program funds. That totals to P700 M, at least for Palawan barangays, to push back what the Western Command has recently described as an insurgency being pursued essentially by nine armed guerillas.
As a counterinsurgency strategy, the NTF-ELCAC’s “whole of nation” approach has been a rehash of all previous administrations’ approaches to dealing with the communist rebellion since it set root during the Magsaysay era in the 1950s. President Duterte’s promise to end rebellion during his term is, as most presidents before him had also promised, is not going to be delivered any time soon.
The positive takeaway from all this is the fact that the Philippines, having been host to the world’s longest-running insurgency, has gained so many lessons with its variants of methods and approaches. It’s now just a matter of learning them.