Wednesday, February 6, 2013

PA intensifies drive vs NPA ‘permit to campaign’ fees in Bicol

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 6): PA intensifies drive vs NPA ‘permit to campaign’ fees in Bicol

Philippine Army (PA) units in charge of Internal Peace and Security Operations (IPSOs) in Bicol are seeing to it that local candidates in the May 2013 elections are prevented from paying “permit fees” being demanded by the New People’s Army (NPA).

Lt. Col. Teody Toribio, the commanding office of the PA’s 31st Infantry Battalion based here, over the week said that while they are dissuading local candidates from submitting to the demand of the NPA for payments.

They are also seeing to it that NPAs are not given the chance to get near these political aspirants. By preventing NPA members from getting close to politicians, negotiations and arrangement of payments could be avoided between the two parties, Toribio said.

Information reaching the Philippine News Agency have it that the NPA is demanding payments for “permit to campaign (PTC)” and “permit to win (PTW)” from local politicians running in the coming May elections in the province and municipalities in amounts ranging between P20,000 and P1.5 million, depending on the position they are running for.

It said P20,000 is for each candidate running for municipal councilor, P40,000 for a city councilor, P200,000 for city mayor, P150,000 for city vice-mayor, P150,000 for municipal mayor, P100,000 for town vice-mayor, P50,000 for provincial board member, P250,000 for vice-governor, P1.5 million for governor, and P1 million for congressman.

Sorsogon province has four candidates for governor, two for vice-governor, seven for congressman for the province’s two congressional districts, and 27 for board members. There are also 14 seats being contested by 36 candidates for town mayors and 36 for municipal vice-mayors. Two candidates are for city mayor; two for city mayor; and 30 for city councilors.

PTC is a candidate’s passport to campaign in “guerrilla zones” or areas considered as controlled by the NPA while PTW is for a candidate to be allowed by the rebels to win in the same areas.

Military intelligence reports have it that in the 2010 elections, the NPA organization in the province was able to collect about P5 million in proceeds from these fees.

Toribio said his command has been keeping close watch around its area of responsibility to prevent negotiations for these fees to transpire between candidates and the NPA. He warned candidates or their representatives from going to NPA lairs to negotiate because they would be treated as part of the rebels should an encounter with government forces take place.

Last week, two members of the NPA unit operating in the second district of the province were killed in a clash with operatives from the PA’s 31st IB in Gubat town. One of the fatalities was identified as Ritchie Espineda, commander of a rebel unit operating in the area, who was encountered by the government troops as he and his close aide were attempting to establish personal contact with a certain local candidate.

In Camarines Norte, another Bicol province considered as hotbed of insurgency, the PA’s 49th IB said in a recent statement that it has intensified internal security operations to eliminate an armed group’s modus of collecting fees for PTCs from local candidates.

Lt. Col. Michael Buhat, the battalion’s commanding officer, said Camarines Norte has 282 barangays and 70 of them are considered NPA “guerilla zones.” In security operations that are continuously being initiated by his command, Buhat said, 41 of these NPA-influenced barangays have been “cleared” from the influence of the NPA. Some 20 others are under clearing operations.

The PA is doing its best to liberate all barangays in Camarines Norte from the influence of the NPA as soon as possible so that local candidates no longer need to secure PTCs to be able to go around these villages during the campaign period, the Army official said. “We are staying on guard to prevent the NPA from collecting PTC fees from candidates in the province,” he stressed.

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