Secretary Hermogenes C. Esperon Jr., National Security Adviser and National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF ELCAC) Vice-Chair (PNA File photo)

MANILA – Despite the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic, the greatest threat to Philippine security and development is still the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army (CPP-NPA).

This, according to National Security Adviser and National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF ELCAC) Vice-Chair, Secretary Hermogenes C. Esperon Jr., during an online press conference Friday.

“It is actually the CPP and the NPA (the group’s armed wing) because they seek to overthrow the democratic form of government and change it with what they call democratic centralism or dictatorship,” he said in response to questions on what he considers to be the biggest security threat to the Philippines.

He added that the CPP-NPA has been responsible for wreaking atrocities and destabilizing the provinces and even in urban areas with help from their front organizations.

Atrocities committed by communist terrorists and their allies are the reasons why development in the rural areas cannot take off, he said.

“I have been deployed in Mindanao and I know for a fact that without the CPP-NPA (committing atrocities there), Mindanao could have been developed and prospered a long time ago,” he said in Filipino.

Esperon, who is former Armed Forces of the Philippines chief, said the security threats posed by communist insurgency is preventing investments from being made in the provinces.

Such threats include the burning of engineering equipment and extortion from legitimate businessmen and brutal killing of indigenous peoples.

He added that communist terrorists must be neutralized to stop all of these so that development can proceed full speed in urban areas.

Aside from dangers posed by the communist terrorists, he said the country is also facing threats from illegal drugs and corruption which also needs to be addressed.

Barangay Development Program

Esperon dismissed reports claiming that the NTF ELCAC proposed funding for its Barangay Development Program for 2021, amounting to PHP16.44, is plain “pork barrel”.

“I don’t know what the pork barrel they are saying, I’m not used to that, we’re just implementing programs here,” he said in Filipino.

Under the said program, 822 barangays cleared of CPP-NPA presence and influence from 2016 to 2019, will be given development funds amounting to PHP20 million each.

The CPP-NPA is listed as a terrorist organization by the United States, European Union, the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the Philippines.

Esperon said the status of these barangays as being freed from CPP-NPA influence was determined by the Armed Forces of the Philippines, Philippine National Police, and local government units and afterward validated by the NTF ELCAC and other agencies,

He also denied having a role in selecting the proposed beneficiary barangays, adding that it was security forces and local government units in the ground who made the determination.

Under the NTF ELCAC’s Barangay Development Program, the planned PHP20 million that will be given to these barangays will be used in constructing various infrastructure projects like farm-to-market roads, school buildings, water and sanitation systems, health stations, and forest cover protection programs.

“We have repulsed or taken out the CPP-NPA, the armed group there and we have settled the social problems in that area. We have known the social problems and therefore we are ready to address them,” Esperon said.

He also expressed hope that the Makabayan bloc will not block or impede funding for this project.

“So we hope that we can get the fund. We hope that the Congress approves the allocation for this Barangay Development Program,” he said, assuring that project will not be used for the coming 2022 elections, contrary to some sectors’ claim.

“Why would we spend PHP16.44 billion for electioneering purposes? We’re not after votes, our goal here is (to) bring development into geographically-isolated and disadvantaged areas,” he said. (PNA)