2023 budget for NTF-ELCAC, DPWH faces opposition from workers

HUNDREDS of workers based in Cebu will mark the National Heroes’ Day commemoration on Monday, Aug. 29, 2022, with a protest rally, demanding that the proposed national budget for 2023 be allocated to basic social services.Around 200 workers are expected to join the protest march, which will start outside the Department of Agriculture office in Mandaue City, said Jaime Paglinawan, chairman of Alyansa sa mga Mamumuo sa Sugbo-Kilusang Mayo Uno (AMA Sugbo-KMU).The progressive labor group leader said they oppose the proposed P10 billion budget for the controversial National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-Elcac), which they said almost doubles its current allocation of P5.6 billion for its barangay development program. They also oppose the proposed P718.4 billion budget for the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH).“These [proposed] budgets should be allocated to the broken-down classrooms and the building of additional classrooms in schools. This must also be used to hire additional teachers as a response to the education crisis and not for the continued arrests and killings of activists and civilians,” Paglinawan said in a press statement.The proposed budgets for the NTF-Elcac and DPWH are included in the Department of Budget Management’s (DBM) proposed P5.268 trillion national budget for 2023.The DBM has proposed P852.8 billion for the education sector for next year, an 8.2 percent increase from the P788.5 billion budget this year. Education remains the highest budgetary priority as mandated by the 1987 Constitution.During the Duterte administration, the NTF-Elcac was criticized because some of its officials engaged in red-tagging activists, lawyers, journalists, writers and other members in the civil society. The DPWH, for its part, has been criticized for its slowness in completing infrastructure projects and the alleged corruption committed by its officials.Paglinawan said the proposed budget allocations for the NTF-Elcac and DPWH “must go to the health sector for them to produce additional medical workers.”“This can also be used for the P15,000 production subsidy for farmers and fisherfolk and financial aid for students, for dismissed workers and for MSMEs (micro, small and medium enterprises) who are still affected by the Covid-19 pandemic and are still struggling even now under the current crisis,” he said.Paglinawan further said that the government’s National Expenditure Program must include funds to pay for the country’s debt and not take the payments “from the already dismal conditions of Filipino workers who are still struggling” from the Covid-19 pandemic and typhoon Odette (Rai).Finance Secretary Benjamin Diokno said last week that only 11 percent or P611 billion of the proposed 2023 budget is allocated for debt servicing.Paglinawan said the rich must be taxed, saying, “It is high time to impose tax on big corporations and billionaires.”He further said the excise tax on oil must be abolished to help ease the prices of petroleum products in the country.“We must actually see that the proposed 2023 national budget of the Marcos Jr. administration will go to basic social services for the people, will solve the economic, health and education crises, and will answer the urgent needs of the different sectors. We must oppose the increase in the budget of fascist programs, such as the barangay development program of the NTF-Elcac that has only committed illegal arrests and killings since its establishment,” Paglinawan said.