The Manila Times

Abolish NTF-Elcac?


CALLS t o abolish ineffective government programs make for attention-getting headlines. Dirty cops committing crimes? Defund or, even better, abolish the police! Knee-jerk reactions can be dramatic.

But good governance requires more than just bumper sticker rhetoric.

After a nine-day investigation, UN Special Rapporteur Ian Fry recommends disbanding the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-Elcac), citing concerns that the group operates beyond its original mandate, is potentially driven by private financial interests and suggests a loss of government control over the military organization.

In defense of NTF-Elcac, its vice chairman, Interior Secretary Eduardo Año, has highlighted its role as an effective human rights mechanism rooted in good governance principles. He underscores its contributions to fostering peace and development in remote communities, particularly those belonging to Indigenous cultural groups disproportionately affected by climate change.

Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla asserts that NTF-Elcac functions as an internal mechanism to counter internal threats and should remain shielded from external interference.

The NTF-Elcac was established during President Rodrigo Duterte’s time, and the Marcos administration has continued the program. For 2024, the task force is asking for P10.29 billion. Of the total amount, P8.6 billion will go to the Barangay Development Program. This proposed budget is 20 percent less than the budget it got for 2023. This is so because the government claims that it has achieved “internal peace and security” in certain local government units.

The government should not hastily dismiss the UN Special Rapporteur’s recommendations. Ian Fry’s criticism should prompt a thorough review or audit of NTF-Elcac to assess its efficacy as we approach a new fiscal year. This can provide the basis for the continuation or abolition of the program.

Based on the task force’s report on its accomplishments in its website, as of Nov. 13, 2023, only 1.12 percent of its 1,254 projects have been completed. The rest are in various stages of implementation. Most are in the pre-procurement stage. This raises critical questions. Why the shortfall? What’s holding back the implementation of the projects? How many barangay (villages) have been declared insurgency-free? Is there a performance audit? Poor completion and liquidation rates show that there is indeed a need for oversight in execution.

The term “insurgency-free,” as defined by Joint Letter Directive 3, Series of 2020, specifies that a barangay earns this designation when certain criteria are met. This includes dismantling the CPP-NPA-NDF (Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army-National Democratic Front) politico-military structure, denial of access to the area, resources, workforce and establishment of a functioning barangay information network as well as integrated community public safety system. In other words, the community is organized to counter future insurgency challenges.

All these will be for naught if there remains a lack of delivery of basic services and an absence of a criminal justice system where the poor can seek redress for grievances. The failure of the government to perform its functions in conflict-affected and vulnerable areas makes them susceptible to insurgency recruitment.

Since its inception in 2018, the military component of this anti-insurgency effort claims to have already dismantled 69 of 89 guerrilla fronts. Of the remaining 20, only one remains active in Northern Samar, and 19 have reportedly been weakened. But what are the parameters used by the task force to claim success?

Lapses and gaps must be identified and acknowledged in the implementation of NTF-Elcac. A thorough investigation and review should then yield empirical basis to determine whether the task force should be continued or abolished. Negative feedback is more often unwelcome but useful in management. We should not be throwing good taxpayers’ money after bad.

Without a clear victory over local communist insurgency, we cannot address the emerging concerns of external threats.

Resolving insurgency requires more than a military approach. Putting an end to local communist armed conflict involves bringing the government closer to marginalized communities. Governance should be participatory. Pouring money into the problem without transparency will not address the issue. National-level policies, no matter how exemplary on paper, are futile if poorly implemented at the grassroots level.

On the question of human rights, red-tagging and extrajudicial killings (EJKs) are issues that are tangential to the counterinsurgency effort. It must be addressed with honesty and compassion.

The CPP-NDF-NPA has forged common cause with environmentalists. This does not mean that most environmentalists are conduits of the communist insurgency. This is to be expected since they are both opposed to the exploitation of natural resources by the economic elite, often oblivious to the effect on Indigenous and poor communities.

The issue of EJK has persistently reared its ugly head in communities where government presence is absent. These demands continued with laser-like focus to win the support of the people.

To be truly successful, the NTFElcac should focus on mobilizing project completion and producing results. Name-calling and redtagging, as we know, only produce heat where we need light.

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