NTF-ELCAC budget slash won’t affect campaign communist rebels, but insurgency-freed barangays will be deprived of projects, says Army official

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ZAMBOANGA SIBUGAY, PHILIPPINES

Reducing the budget for the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) for 2022 will not substantially affect the campaign ending the communist insurgency in Zamboanga Peninsula, a military official said.

But the reduction, Brig. General Leonel Nicolas, commanding officer of the Army’s 102nd Infantry Brigade, will affect the “Barangay Development Program (BDP) packages supposed to “address the pressing issues in areas formerly affected by communist insurgency.”

The BDP is the centerpiece program of the NTF-ELCAC which seeks to bring development to communities formerly affected by communists insurgency.

He said these packages, which include livelihood, infrastructure, and health services will “help push the development of most vulnerable barangays.”

“The significant cut of the NTF-ELCAC budget will greatly affect the people who have suffered from the terror of communist insurgency,” he explained.

In Zamboanga Sibugay, Nicolas said, several villages will be affected by the budget.

Records from the office of the Civilian Military Operations of 102nd IB showed that four barangays in the province have already implemented their BDP projects this year. Three more barangays are identified for 2022.

Capt. Sotero Abrito III, CMO chief said barangays Balagon in Siay; Guinoman in Diplahan; and Tampilisan and Lacnapan in Kabasalan have already implemented their BDP projects.

These villages were former strongholds of the New People’s Army (NPA), the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP).

Nicolas downplayed, however, the possibility of these villages to become the lairs of the communist insurgents if the budget is implemented.

“The regional, provincial, municipal, and barangay task forces remain in place and I believe the mechanism will continue to identify the gaps and needs in their respective peace and development campaigns,” he said.

Aside from this, he added, the Barangay Defense Systems are already in place.

Last May, Nicolas said only two guerrilla fronts remained operational in Zamboanga Peninsula.

He identified these two fronts – Front BBC and Front Sendong under the Western Mindanao Regional Party Committee (WMRPC).

BBC is the shorthand for Big Beautiful Country, an area within Mt Malindang straddling Misamis Occidental and Zamboanga del Norte. Front Sendong covers Zamboanga del Norte.

Early this year, the military declared the provinces of Zamboanga Sibugay and Zamboanga del Sur as insurgency-free.

Zamboanga Sibugay Governor Wilter Palma said an insurgency-free province would usher in more development.

Peace is necessary for development to happen, he said.

NTF-ELCAC has succeeded in institutionalizing the “Whole-of-Nation” approach making the campaign against the communist insurgents resilient and withstand any budget cut, he said.

The 2021 budget allocated some P16.44 billion for various development programs under NTF-ELCAC. But some senators want to slash the budget in 2022 to P4 billion instead of increasing the budget to P24 billion. – The Sun Monitor

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