As local leaders nationwide continue to express their outrage over the move of senators to cut the budget of the Barangay Development Program (BDP) of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC), three more governors and a mayor also voiced their concerns over the looming threat of the communist terrorist groups (CTGs) if these funds are denied in 2022.
At the weekly virtual NTF-ELCAC press briefing, Abra De Ilog Municipal Mayor Eric Constantino in Occidental Mindoro reported his municipality is again facing the threat of CTGs as the New People’s Army (NPA) headquarters formerly based in Quezon and Laguna provinces has transferred to their province.
Constantino called on the senators “to have a second look” and “consider how effective” the NTF-ELCAC’s BDP is in providing far-flung communities of their basic needs.
The mayor added that the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army-National Democratic Front (CPP-NPA-NDF) are making “recovery efforts” to take back their province, composed mostly of Indigenous People (IP) communities.
“Hear the cries and clamor of the people (especially IPs). You will deny them the service which you have sworn into office,” Constantino requested to senators who wanted to slash the BDP budget, adding that IPs are “the bulk of CPP-NPA-NDF recruitment.”
He explained that IP communities in his municipality have already felt the presence of the national government through the BDP that has already provided five of his “isolated” barangays of streetlights with solar-powered stations, ongoing potable water project, classrooms, and upgrading of roads.
“Other barangays are hopeful that theirs will follow soon,” Constantino said, insisting that the move by some senators of slashing BDP budget “will devastate the fate of progress,” in his hometown.
Bohol Governor Arthur Yap, on the other hand, said they viewed the move as a great concern, even if his province has yet to accept and receive the BDP fund next year.
“Sayang lang ang big investment ng national government for Bohol in tourism,” Yap explained, noting that BDP will help fix the road network of six critical barangay in his province.
Yap said that while talking with the various local leaders of Bohol, everyone has expressed their frustrations and anger over the situation.
“Sabi nila kung ganyan pala ang ginagawa nila, yung mga Senators. They have the power right now to help us, but they choose not to do so, then I think the people should know the governors, the mayors and our leaders must troop to the Senate and make our sentiments be heard. So, I’m ready to go if the other governors are going to the Senate. Please count me in,” Yap emphasized.
But for Eastern Samar Governor Ben Evardone, the senators pushing for the BDP budget cuts are just making political posturing as the next election nears.
“Para hindi sila magmukhang bad boy ililipat sa Covid-19 pandemic,” Evardone said, referring to some senator’s claims that it is better to transfer the BDP fund to fight the dreaded virus pandemic.
“Itong pandemic ng insurgency ay mas matagal na,” Evardone explained.
He narrated that during their consultative meeting with his constituents on what they have wanted first to be funded by the BDP, most of the residents of their ten municipalities have become hopeful that progress will be theirs.
However, Evardone said that when they learned of some senators’ move, one of the mayors took courage and also moved a resolution to be issued declaring the senators who are against the BDP should receive “zero votes” in their province.
“Sana nga sa bicam mahabol ito at mairestore,” the Eastern Samar governor said.
For Davao Oriental Governor Nelson Dayanghirang, the 81 to 82 percent nearing completion of BDP projects in his province would come to naught if sustainability will be hampered by the budget slash as this unique program was only implemented in this administration.
“This is the first time in the history na nabigyan pansin ng national ang mga pangangailangan ng ating mga kababayan na nasa laylayan, partikular sa mga nakatira sa malalayong lugar,” Dayahirang said.
Dayanghirang said if the BDP would be stopped, the biggest casualty would be the national government itself.
He described the BDP as the best long term solution to the insurgency problem. “Ito nga ang tinitingnan namin na pangmatagalan na solusyon na mabigyan sana ang mga pangangailangan ng taumbayan partikular doon sa conflict affected barangays po.”
“Ako po ay nakikiusap sa ating mga Senador na huwag naman ninyong ipagdamot ang kapayapaan para sa bansang Pilipinas, huwag naman nating ipagdamot ang mga pangangailangan na matagal ng minimithi ng ating mga kababayan na maangkin nila,” he called on the senators.
Interior and Local Government Undersecretary Jonathan Malaya, NTF-ELCAC Spokesperson on Local Government Affairs and BDP said while they are still hoping that majority of the senators will support the BDP in the end, the department is happy to see and hear local officials voicing their sentiment over the issue, as they too continue to appeal for the passage of BDP budget in its “entirety.”
“BDP served as a game-changer in our fight against local terrorism and communism,” he said.
“There is a strong momentum on the part of government in fighting against terrorism and if we slashed that 28.1 billion, it sends a wrong signal to our partner local government units under the National Task Force ELCAC who have now taken a strong stand together with the DILG and the rest of the NTF-ELCAC against Communist Terrorist Groups.”
He added that this is primarily the first time that we are providing this large amount of funding from the government to disadvantaged and isolated areas across the country.
On the issue of slow implementation, Malaya said that many simple projects were already completed, such as the distribution of seed capital, rice harvesters and livelihood projects, while farm-to-market roads and electrification projects would take more time because of the government’s compliance to Republic Act (RA) 9184 or the Procurement Act.
“It’s unfair to say na mababa ang accomplishment dahil sa mahaba-habang proseso and timeline in accomplishing these projects. These are big ticket projects. At pangalawa po dumaan tayo sa pandemya. Hindi po nagpabaya ang NTF-ELCAC or ang mga local government units in implementing these projects the soonest possible time,” Malaya reiterated.