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Monday, June 24, 2024

Money best spent elsewhere

"Are these the sorts of activities that taxpayers ought to be funding?"

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The Senate committee on finance has slashed P24 billion from the proposed 2022 budget of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC), with the senators clearly believing the money that the Palace seeks for it is better spent elsewhere.

Under the latest Senate version of the spending bill, the allocation for the NTF-ELCAC, which is under the Office of the President, is down to P4 billion, from the P28 billion that the Palace sought—and that the House so pliably granted.

The chairman of the committee, Senator Juan Edgardo Angara, said his colleagues were insistent about cutting funding for the task force, which has been behind the red-tagging of critics of the government, including lawfully elected representatives of Congress; the initiation of background checks on organizers of community pantries that sought to provide food aid to people hurt by the pandemic; and the campaign to purge university libraries of “subversive materials” that can only be described as an assault on academic freedom, scandalously supported by the leadership of the Commission on Higher Education. Remarkably, these “subversive” materials include draft peace agreements that this government and the communist rebels produced, back in the day when negotiations to end the five-decade-old insurgency were still being pursued.

Are these the sorts of activities that taxpayers’ money ought to be funding?

For this year, the task force received P16.4 billion for its barangay assistance projects, which ostensibly are aimed at helping villages that have been cleared of communist rebels. The Senate, however, has yet to receive a report on how this money was actually spent.

Senators say the billions saved by slashing the NTF-ELCAC budget will go toward paying health workers at the forefront of the COVID-19 pandemic response their special risk allowance and other benefits that were not funded in the Palace-proposed national budget for 2022.

It is too early to say if the Senate-initiated budget cuts will make it through the process by which the two different versions of the national spending plan are reconciled. But there are good reasons to cut the NTF-ELCAC budget. Surely, among all the competing requirements for resources in this challenging economy, an anti-communist clique operating under the Office of the President cannot be at the front of the line. But the most compelling reason to make the cuts is that we can realign these funds toward our battered health care system and the people who are essential to its survival. Given that they are the reason we have weathered this pandemic so far, it will be money well spent indeed.

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