Philippine Senate Minority Leader Sen. Franklin Drilon urged the Commission on Audit on 2 August to conduct a special audit on the PhP 19.2-billion budget of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC). He said he will also ask the Senate leadership to demand that the NTF-ELCAC submit a report on how its budget was used.

Sen. Drilon was reacting to a COA report which showed that Duterte’s anti-communist task force was able to spend only 12% of its PhP 722.95 million budget in 2020, and yet was appropriated PhP 19.2 billion for 2021. The NTF-ELCAC is proposing a PhP 40 billion budget for 2022. “We have more than sufficient funds for counterinsurgency, millions of which remain untouched, unobligated and unspent,” he said.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III said the Senate needs to find out why the NTF-ELCAC funds were underutilized. “There is an obvious flaw somewhere... we will find out,” he said.

Earlier on 15 July, Sen. Drilon said the national government “does not need to give a single centavo to the NTF-ELCAC for 2022.” The funds, he said, could be used “in aid of the 2022 elections,” referring to corrupt government officials’ practice of using government funds for their election campaigns.

Last year, several lawmakers objected to giving the NTF-ELCAC billions of pesos in funding, saying the money will just be used to ‘red-tag’ or stygmatize critics of the Duterte administration.

Marco Valbuena, Chief Information Officer of the Communist Party of the Philippines, welcomed Sen. Drilon’s demand to investigate the NTF-ELCAC spending. Valbuena said the PhP 16.4 billion Barangay Development Program is being used by the NTF-ELCAC and the Armed Forces of the Philippines to influence the outcome of the 2022 local and national elections. “It paves the way for enlarging the military’s political influence that is dangerously combined with their armed might,” he said.

Valbuena revealed that the NTF-ELCAC classification of 822 villages as “cleared of the New People’s Army” is dubious. He said at least 50 of these villages saw armed encounters between the NPA and AFP since January 2020. He also said that some of the villages listed are not even considered part of the areas of operation of  the NPA.

Valbuena also criticized the government construction of one-kilometer cemented roads, empty schoolbuildings and empty health clinic buildings in the rural areas. He doubted the government had also allocated funds for the hiring of teachers, doctors, nurses and health workers, and for school materials and healthcare equipment, “so that they will not turn out to be empty buildings.”

Valbuena said, “The broad sectors of the people demand a stop to how their money is being squandered on wasteful and corrupt counterinsurgency operations and white elephant projects.”