Department of Budget (DBM) Undersecretary Tina Rose Canda disclosed that P19.24 billion was released to the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict NTF-ELCAC, including P16.4 billion for special purpose funds (SPF).
In a Senate Finance Committee hearing, the official also disclosed that the projects of the government’s anti-insurgency task force are identified only during its implementation, prompting Senator Sonny Angara to call the funds for these projects “pork barrel,” GMA News reported.
Pork barrel is declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. It refers to lumpsum and discretionary funds earmarked for lawmakers in the national budget for their pet projects.
During the Senate hearing on the DBM’s proposed 2023 budget, Senator Nancy Binay asked for updates on the implementation of projects requested by NTF-ELCAC for 2020 and 2021. The task force is reportedly seeking P10 billion as special purpose funds in 2023.
Canda said for 2021, P19.24 billion was released to NTF-ELCAC, including P16.4 billion for the said SPF.
The DBM was not able to submit the updates on the P16.4 billion SPF for NTF-ELCAC, prompting Binay to read a document containing the completion status of the projects, GMA News also reported.
“Based on this document, out of the 2021 release, total amount P16 billion, ‘yung ongoing is P2.9 [billion], completed is P3.2 [billion],” Binay said.
Angara, who chairs the committee, then asked the details of the P3.2 billion completed projects of the NTF-ELCAC, pointing out that there were doubts cast on its efforts in the previous years.
“There’s no report. You’re the budgetary experts, how do you judge that?” Angara said.
Binay backed Angara’s question and asked the DBM, which is defending the SPFs, on how it would justify the additional P10 billion for next year “when you don’t even know what’s going on with these project(s)?” the GMA News report said.
Canda said the DBM only allocates funds based on the number of cleared barangays as declared by the NTF-ELCAC.
She added the DBM is also vetting the projects that the NTF-ELCAC has proposed similar to what they are doing toother agencies.
“We were saying that perhaps you (NTF-ELCAC) have to concentrate on the ongoing projects under the cleared barangays that have been recently identified,” Canda said.
The DBM was also asked to submit the lists of barangay beneficiaries for the P10 billion SPF for 2023.
Canda said that the barangay beneficiaries were specified by the NTF-ELCAC but not the projects to be covered by the requested funds and that “the projects are identified only during the implementation phase.”
At this point, Angara said that this is considered as “pork barrel” based on the High Court’s definition.
“In the end, they just make a menu which they can choose from. But I see the minority leader who is a much better lawyer than I am, is agreeing that its a pork barrel based on the definition of the Supreme Court. Because, you know, when you pass the [General Appropriation Act], there must be an identification of projects as much as possible,” he added.
Canda said the DBM has given the NTF-ELCAC “some leeway” in the identification of the projects because of the “intent of the funds.” But the DBM official said they will leave it to the discretion of the Senate panel if they will adjust the amounts allocated to the NTF-ELCAC.
Angara said they also want to support the program but told DBM that it should apply the standards that they impose to other government agencies.