By MARC RECHELLE LIGSAY BUNTAG
MANILA – A group of progressive Filipino women has called on the government to allocate zero-budget for agencies and instruments that “are at the forefront of silencing women and the rest of the Filipino people.”
“Budget deliberations will be held soon. Red-taggers, human rights violators, and those attacking the rights of the welfare of women and the rest of the people should have no budget in 2023,” said Joms Salvador, secretary general of Gabriela, during the group’s 14th Congress.
Held last August 16 to 17, the congress centered on documenting the attacks perpetrated by the well-funded National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC), especially in far-flung communities.
With such grave attacks, Salvador said Executive Order No. 70, which created the NTF-ELCAC should be scrapped.
Increased military spending
Military spending has been on the rise in recent years.
Per the proposed 2023 budget, the Department of National Defense is set to receive a nine-percent increase amounting to a total P240.7 billion ($42.936 million). Meanwhile, the NTF-ELCAC’s Barangay Development Program is still set to receive P10 billion ($17.838 million).
Last year, the defense department received a total budget of P220.487 billion ($3.925 billion), which was 29.5-percent higher than 2021.
The controversial NTF-ELCAC, on the other hand, was allocated a P19.1 billion ($30.07 million) budget last year.
In a previous statement, Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay said funding the task force is a waste of billions of public funds that “incentivize if not reward brutal human rights violations — from red-tagging to illegal arrests and extrajudicial killings.”
In the Commission on Audit’s 2021 audit report, state auditors flagged the P33.4 million ($596,610) unliquidated funds of NTF-ELCAC’s national secretariat under the Office of the President.
Last year, several senators and lawmakers have pushed for the defunding of NTF-ELCAC. Progressives said the budget allocated should be re-aligned to provide social services and financial aid.
Disappearances, attacks against communities
For Gabriela, the red-tagging has translated to human rights violations and has hindered them from carrying out their work as human rights advocates.
Among the latest cases of human rights violations include the disappearance of community organizers Elizabeth Magbanua and Alipio Juat, who have been missing since May 3, and Elgene Mungcal and Ma. Elena Cortez Pampoza, who were last seen on July 3.
Recently, the Supreme Court has granted the Writ of Amparo but all four have yet to be found. Gabriela said in a statement the recent incidents are reminiscent of attacks against critics carried out under the Marcos Sr. dictatorship.
Meanwhile, Sha Songlalia, secretary-general of Gabriela-Southern Tagalog, assailed the continuing militarization of communities. This has prevented them from documenting and seeking justice for atrocities, including the reported killing of a nine-year-old girl in Taysan, Batangas province.
Despite the attacks, Gabriela affirmed their commitment in serving the country’s poor, saying that they “will persevere despite these brutal crackdowns.”
“Our 14th Congress is a testament to our tireless pursuit for the rights of women, and of the Filipino woman’s desire for a life of dignity. No amount of terrorist-tagging by the newly installed president Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and his NTF-ELCAC can erase the services of GABRIELA that include counseling, welfare, and legal support,” Gabriela said. (JJE, RVO)