Mayor Dario Otaza of Loreto town in Agusan del Sur grew weary of life in the New People’s Army and left the group, espousing peace and the welfare of his fellow lumad or indigenous people.
Last Monday night, 18 gunmen posing as members of the National Bureau of Investigation swooped down on Otaza’s home in
grabbed him and his son Daryl, 27, and sped away in a van. Hours later,
the mayor and his son were found dead in a coconut plantation in Butuan. Their
hands were tied and the bodies bore multiple gunshot wounds. Butuan City
Security officials said the 18 belonged to the New People’s Army, who resented not only Otaza’s abandonment of the rebel movement but also his efforts to bring other NPA rebels back to the social mainstream. Otaza, a member of the Manobo tribe, had reportedly encouraged up to 246 other NPA rebels to follow in his footsteps and leave the group.
It was just the latest atrocity attributed to the NPA. Executing rebel returnees is one of the ways by which the NPA and its political leadership are undermining Philippine democracy. With the approach of the 2016 elections, the NPA is intensifying its extortion activities, demanding protection money from candidates as “permit to campaign fees.” The NPA and its political arm also support certain candidates and raise campaign funds by shaking down businessmen, torching the buses and installations of those who refuse to give in to the extortion.
Fear is what such attacks are meant to instill. The targets of the NPA must deprive the group of victory by refusing to be cowed into submission. But those who resist the nation’s largest outlawed armed group will need support from the government, which must intensify efforts to keep the public safe from NPA attacks.