MANILA – National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. said the anti-insurgency fund was used for good governance and not as a pork barrel.
In a regular virtual press conference titled "Tagged: Debunking Lies By Telling The Truth” last July 16, Esperon said bulk of the PHP19 billion total budget of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) fund had been allocated for the Barangay Development Program (BDP).
The BDP is the government's counter-insurgency plan which aims to deliver various government programs in conflict-afflicted and geographically isolated villages that have been considered "cleared" from the influence of communist rebels.
Esperon said about 822 identified barangays nationwide have received PHP20 million each that they can use for the implementation of various developmental projects in their areas such as farm-to-market roads, classrooms, water and sanitation systems, health stations, and livelihood projects.
"The funds for the Barangay Development Program are directly released to the provincial and the city governments who will undertake, administer or contract out the BDP projects. That's the bulk of it," Esperon said.
He refuted Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon's earlier statement that the 2022 anti-insurgency fund could be used "as a huge campaign kitty for next year's election."
Esperon said aside from funds allocated for the BDPs, there are also funds given to the Philippine National Police (PNP), Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) including the National Security Council, to pursue other developmental projects that will ensure the total dismantling of communist terrorist group’s (CTG) guerrilla fronts in the far-flung communities.
"Why would he say that it (fund) is not needed anymore? I have recently visited Sorsogon for a groundbreaking, because in the Bicol Region today, they have 49 barangays allocated with PHP20 million each, these are former guerrilla centers or strongholds," Esperon said.
Larger anti-insurgency funds
He noted that the local people in the area have proposed a larger amount of anti-insurgency fundings for the whole of Bicol Region, to make sure they will not anymore be infiltrated by the communist rebels.
"It goes similar to Samar. For now, they have six barangays but soon Samar alone, they will have about 198 and there will be less for Mindanao since it was the concentration of the previous clashes," he said.
The local officials in the Ilocos Region have likewise asked the national government to put up BDPs in more villages as they have seen the improvements of some areas cleared from the influence of the CTGs, he added.
"Therefore, we are not the ones saying that (we need the fund), but the local officials and the residents themselves and that's the most important," he said.
Esperon said Drilon should also look up to the residents' feedback about the program.
"Those we are visiting for the groundbreaking nationwide, the people's feedback, never-mind the local officials or the governor, they say this has to be pursued here because we know it could be spent as needed. Listen to them because they are the ones identifying their needed projects in the areas. Although we have a menu, but, in the final implementation, the (project) listing must come from them," he said.
Esperon said he remains unfazed by Drilon's warning that the opposition senator will "vehemently oppose" the 2022 budget of NTF-ELCAC.
"Kung 'yan ang paniwala ng kagalang-galang na Senator Frank Drilon ay sige lang. Anyway dudulog pa rin naman kami dyan sa Kongreso (If that's the sentiment of Senator Drilon, then fine. Anyway, we will still appeal in Congress) because the budget passes to Congress, in the House of Representatives, and the Senate, and we hope to still get the support of the majority of Congress in both Houses to again fund these barangays because these areas really needed to be developed," he said.
Neglected 822 barangays
He emphasized that the task force is currently developing only 822 out of 42,000 barangays nationwide.
"These areas have been neglected for a long time and we have programs in other barangays. But remember, we are working with only on 822, for now, that's not even 1 percent of the 42,000 barangays, and if we have to add another 2,000 or even 3,000 more barangays -- that's what percent out of 42,000?," Esperon said.
Esperon said he would just talk with the officials and residents of those barangays formerly infiltrated by the CTGs if Drilon would really insist to defund the NTF-ELCAC by next year.
"Sasabihin namin sa mga barangay na hindi niyo na raw kailangan ito. Yun lang. Eh di wala nang pinagtalunan. Kung hindi maipasa yan eh di sabihin natin pumunta kayo kay Senator Drilon, sabihin natin na hindi na papayag, na hindi daw pwede (We will tell them he said you don't need it anymore. That's it. There's no argument on that. If we will be defunded, let's tell them to go to Senator Drilon, we'll tell them it's not allowed, we can't have the fund)," he said.
He added the task force will further assure Drilon that the anti-insurgency fund, which is 99 percent released to the target barangays, will be properly implemented.
"On that note, I hope we will still get Senator Drilon's support after presenting to him our accomplishment report," he said. "So they would say that this PHP20 million budget went straight to the projects, not in a certain person, most especially it did not go to the pork barrel of Esperon. We don't do that)."
Esperon assured that the implementation of the BDP nationwide is aligned with the good governance initiatives of the State.
"The BDP is branded with good governance. It has no taint of pork barrel," Esperon said. (PNA)