“Military pork barrel:” Karapatan flags DILG’s funds for NTF-ELCAC

Photo by Carlo Manalansan/Bulatlat

As the country continues to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic, pouring billions more to the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) is “a gross display of the Duterte government’s priorities and militarist agenda,” human rights watchdog Karapatan said as the group flagged the proposed funds of the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) under the NTF-ELCAC’s Barangay Development Program as “virtually military pork barrel.”

“We are facing a crisis and the national elections are drawing near. Now more than ever, there should be greater scrutiny into how taxpayers’ money is spent — lest they are pocketed, utilized for nefarious ends, or used for electioneering. The lack of transparency in the DILG’s use of its NTF-ELCAC funds is a massive red flag which raises many questions, especially when government resources are also used for State repression and violations of people’s rights,” Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay stated.

The NTF-ELCAC is seeking at least PHP 29.2 billion in the 2022 national budget — PHP 10 billion more than its PHP 19.2 billion budget this year. The bulk of the proposed funds amounting to PHP 28.12 billion was allocated under the Barangay Development Program, with each barangay allegedly “cleared” of “rebel influence” to receive PHP 20 million worth of funds to be supposedly used for various projects, while another PHP 1.08 billion was allocated for the NTF-ELCAC through the DILG.

Regions which received the biggest chunk of the fund for the NTF-ELCAC’s Barangay Development Program — Regions 7, 10, 11, 12, and 13 — were the same regions where most killings and political arrests occurred since the start of the President Rodrigo Duterte’s term from July 2016 until June 2021. 206 out of the 414 cases of extrajudicial killings transpired in the said regions while 322 out of the 487 political prisoners arrested under the Duterte administration were arrested in the same regions.

Palabay asked: “How does the DILG and local government units determine whether or not barangays are actually ‘cleared’ when the military and the police have been caught red-handed several times staging fake surrenders, red-tagging and harassing leaders of people’s organizations and community organizers to force them to surrender as rebels, to illegally arresting them on planted evidence and trumped-up charges or even murdering them in fabricated armed encounters?”

“On one hand, the funds of the Barangay Development Program is essentially pork — and it raises the possibility of these funds being used to curry favors and influence the upcoming national elections next year. More importantly, however, such ‘clearing’ operations as a prerequisite to receive PHP 20 million from the program not only set a fertile ground for various forms of human rights violations: these funds virtually incentivize and reward them,” the Karapatan official averred.

She continued that under the NTF-ELCAC’s whole-of-nation counterinsurgency campaign, the DILG is not the only agency to receive billions and that “State auditors have recently several agencies in their use of NTF-ELCAC funds; funneling more money and resources to the NTF-ELCAC only makes more room for corruption, while funding the militarization of civilian bureaucracy and State repression only exacerbates the conditions that lie at the root of armed conflict rather than resolving them.”

“That we face a massive crisis while the government wants to pour in more funds for its militarism only shows that this government simply has no regard for people’s welfare. This whole-of-nation approach only paves the way for a whole-of-nation corruption on top of the mobilization of the entire government machinery to orchestrate more fascist attacks against the people. The NTF-ELCAC must be abolished now and its budget should be realigned for public health and basic social services,” Palabay ended.