With the communist-led armed rebellion in the country poised to mark its 54th year this month, it’s timely and relevant to ask the question above.
After all, the Department of National Defense and the Armed Forces of the Philippines claimed recently that the Maoist insurgency has been effectively contained.
The numbers, they said, clearly tell us that the rebellion has been on a consistent decline, with their strength substantially reduced from a high of 25,000 in the 1980s to a minuscule 2,000 regular fighters spread out in a few regions in the country at present.
The number of ‘guerrilla zones’ where the NPA has at least a battalion of fighters on active duty is now down to a single digit, according to the security sector, enough reason for the government to say that it has scored a ‘strategic victory’ over the NPA.
But we’re confused no end by a seeming inconsistency in the numbers that the DND and the AFP are citing, and the increase in the intelligence budgets that government agencies whose responsibilities include national security are asking for next year.
If the communist-led rebellion is on its death throes as claimed by the defense establishment, it stands to reason that the intelligence funds for those government agencies with national security functions should be substantially reduced, not increased.
Senate Minority Leader Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III is not pleased at all that one agency, the Department of the Interior and Local Government, has more than P1 billion in its proposed 2023 budget of P252.58 billion just to assess and evaluate the government’s counter-insurgency campaign.
At the recent DILG budget deliberation, Pimentel said he was aghast after he saw such a “huge amount allotted merely for monitoring the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC).
“This really shocked me,” he said, citing the P400 million given for the task this year, plus the P1.084 billion for the same task next year, despite the NTF-ELCAC being repeatedly criticized for its failure to account for the billions that it has received over the past three years.
Pimentel lamented that the amount was tacked onto the DILG’s anti-insurgency programs even if it was not tasked with identifying villages cleared of rebel influence or control, which would receive funding and would not undertake the distribution of the cash assistance.
The senator asked why such an amount was being given for making assessments and evaluations while many other agencies were begging for funds just to sustain their operations.
The P1.084 billion is lodged in the proposed budget of the Philippine National Police, which is under the supervision of the DILG, to “cover and monitor activities meant to address the root causes of insurgency,” according to Sen. Sonny Angara, Senate finance chair.
Angara said the P1.084-billion fund is separate from the P10 billion earmarked for the NTF-ELCAC, through the Assistance to Local Government Units lodged in the Department of Budget and Management.
He said the DILG funding includes monitoring the implementation of the Support to Barangay Development Program under the NTF-ELCAC.
The BDP involves projects aimed at economic development of communities that were once influenced or sympathetic to the insurgency.
The funds for the programs and activities of the NTF-ELCAC have apparently been scattered among several agencies as part of the government’s counter-insurgency campaign.
It is the AFP, however, that declares which barangays are classified as cleared and are entitled to get funding support of P20 million, while the DBM releases the amounts to barangays concerned.
On the other hand, the PNP is tasked to conduct counter-mobilization activities, law enforcement, capacity building, monitoring and other activities.
Pimentel is on the right track in urging the public to monitor how hundreds of millions of pesos in confidential and intelligence funds will be spent by agencies not responsible for national security or law enforcement, such as the Department of Education, even as the country grapples with a bloated national debt.
What’s going on today gives us a sense of déjà vu.
We recall that it was in the 1960s that the term “budgetary Huks” was coined by the political opposition then to refer to the justification used by some lawmakers to get a bigger budget ostensibly to contain the communist threat represented by the remnants of the Huks (short for the Hukbong Bayan Laban sa Hapon) that continued to fight the government even after the end of the Second World War.
But the demand for a higher budget for the defense department and the armed forces so they could fight the Reds at the time was misplaced and unseemly as the Huk rebellion had already been largely decimated and its key leaders incarcerated in maximum-security prison.
History, it is said, occurs twice: the first time as tragedy, the second as farce.