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Makabayan bloc thanks Velasco

ALLIANCE of Concerned Teachers (ACT) party-list Rep. France Castro has expressed gratitude to Speaker Lord Allan Velasco for defending their group over the military’s surveillance and red-tagging by Armed Forces of the Philippines – Southern Luzon Commander in Chief Lt. General Antonio Parlade.

Castro, a member of the Makabayan Bloc, admitted that she did not expect such concern from the House leadership, adding it was the first time that she ever heard of a very strong statement of protection from a Speaker.

She said allegations that they are members of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) are baseless and unfounded.

“Lubos naming pinasasalamatan si Speaker Velasco. Yung ginagawa niyang pagtatanggol sa kanyang kasamahan lalo na s’ya ay Speaker, ngayon lang ako nakarinig ng Speaker na ganito,” Castro stated.

Aside from Castro, other members of the Makabayan Bloc are Bayan Muna Reps. Carlos Isagani Zarate, Eufemia Cullamat and Ferdinand Gaite, Gabriela Rep. Arlene Brosas, and Kabataan Rep. Sarah Elago.

Parlade, spokesperson for the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC), recently stated that the Makabayan Bloc and even former Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares are “defunding of the red-tagging and fake news-spreading National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) and realigning its budget for the relief operations to the Typhoon ravaged communities would be very welcome indeed.”

“If we are to take the P19.1 billion being asked for by the NTF-ELCAC and use it to make relief packs, we can have at least 38.2 million packs for the more than 2 million people affected by Super Typhoon Rolly and even that of Typhoon Quinta,” Zarate explained.

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Albay Rep. Joey Sarte Salceda, chairman of the House committee on ways and means, said that some P16 billion in projects classified as under the National Task Force for Ending Communist Local Armed Conflict are projects with an approach similar to Bottom-Up Budgeting (BUB), and should be kept, “perhaps with some adjustment towards areas hard-hit by recent natural calamities.”

Salceda said that the label “can mislead one into thinking that this is a direct national security budget, when the items are actually for countryside development. The idea is that when you build roads in the countryside, you are creating opportunities for economic development, and minimizing the incentives for joining armed conflict.”

“Of course, I appreciate the concern for the Bicol region. Indeed, there should be some space for realigning some non-urgent projects towards Albay, Catanduanes and other hard-hit areas. After all, if these provinces can recover faster, and the infrastructure in far-flung areas of these provinces is tended to, the rationale for insurgency is drastically reduced,” Salceda said.

“I’ll bring the matter of adjustment up to the bicameral conference committee. In general, the idea of spending on programs towards economic development in the countryside is the most effective way to rid of armed conflict of breathing space, because it feeds on resentment. I support those countryside development programs,” Salceda stated. “I appreciate the framework that sees armed conflict as ultimately rooted in poverty and underdevelopment. So, the countryside development programs under the task force is an acknowledgment that some solutions are not military in nature.”

“We’re looking at P6 billion in infrastructure damage, P3 billion in damage to agriculture, and at least P12 billion in damage to private property. This does not count the opportunity costs, of course, as Bicol will suffer from economic slowdown for a while, on top of our COVID-19 problems. So, budgetary adjustments towards hard-hit areas are welcome,” Salceda stressed. “We can have a conversation on what items under countryside development projects of the task force can be redirected and/or optimized to help this recovery. That would a productive conversation.”

“These non-military interventions are important, and they diffuse government assistance to the poorest reaches of the country. I support these programs, and I am open to conversations on adjusting them,” Salceda said.