Defund NTF-ELCAC, reallocate remaining P4-Billion budget to COVID-19 response | Inquirer Opinion
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LETTER TO THE EDITOR

Defund NTF-ELCAC, reallocate remaining P4-Billion budget to COVID-19 response

/ 04:01 AM November 17, 2021

The Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform (PEPP) welcomes the decision of the Senate committee on finance to cut the 2022 budget of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-Elcac) from P28 billion to P4 billion, and to reallocate the excess funds to the COVID-19 response.

However, P4 billion is still a very substantial amount for an agency that, since its existence, has espoused a culture of hatred and violence instead of a culture of dialogue and peace.

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The NTF-Elcac has received billions of pesos in the wake of President Duterte’s unilateral termination of peace negotiations with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) in 2017. The government could have used these billions of pesos to address the basic needs of our people, especially in this time of the COVID-19 pandemic. This also raises the issue of transparency as even the Commission on Audit has admitted having trouble auditing the expenses.

Contrary to its name, which is to end local armed conflicts, the NTF-Elcac has become a hindrance to the promise of peace. The NTF-Elcac is now the critical weapon in the government’s total war against what it calls terrorists. This total war relies on the use of violent means. Consequently, it only increases violations in human rights and international humanitarian law. We are witnesses to the results of the government’s total war strategy as seen in the numerous killings, threats, harassment, bombings, and restriction of movement of farming and indigenous communities in remote rural areas. A recent case was the aerial bombing in the Bukidnon hinterlands.

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The NTF-Elcac has also become notorious for its rampant Red-tagging. It is responsible for vilifying even church organizations, church leaders, and members. It is also responsible for the withdrawal of the publications of the NDFP from several state universities, among them the printed agreements related to the peace talks.

Based on our faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the PEPP believes that violence breeds injustice, which results in conflict. This complicated conflict will not be solved by an all-out war, not even a counterinsurgency program with billions in budget, if the government does not address the roots that fan its flames.

Several personalities and groups have called for the task force’s abolition. For us church leaders, the most viable option for a just and lasting peace is to forge a negotiated peace settlement coupled with meaningful social and economic reforms. Principled peace negotiations also require much, much fewer funds and are less costly to life and limb, which would ultimately mean more funds for our people who are mired in hunger and poverty amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

We thus affirm that a peace process that addresses social injustices is the will of God, and we will not stop working for it, starting with the call to resume formal peace talks between the government and the NDFP. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” (Matthew 5:9)

PHILIPPINE ECUMENICAL PEACE PLATFORM
Archbishop Emeritus Antonio J. Ledesma, SJ, cochair, PEPP/em>
Rt. Rev. Rex B. Reyes JR., cochair, PEPP
Bishop Reuel Norman O. Margiza, general secretary, National Council of Churches in the Philippines
Rev. Dr. Aldrin Penamora, director, justice, peace & reconciliation, PARC PCEC
Sr. Mary John D. Mananzan, OSB, OWGC-AMRSP-Women
BP Emetirus Deogracias S. Iñiquez Jr., DD, cochair, EBF

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TAGS: Letters to the Editor, NTF-ELCAC budget, Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform
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