From the Catanduanes Tribune (Jun 25): Armed men burn equipment, barracks in Pandan; Contractors not keen on fighting ‘extortionists’ - PNP
This was the conclusion of the Philippine National Police (PNP) in Catanduanes after only one representative of the invited contractors showed up in the meeting called last week by PNP provincial director Senior Superintendent Jeffrey Fernandez to discuss measures against alleged extortionists targeting contractors of multi-million infrastructure projects.
In a chance interview, PD Fernandez lamented that the lack of interest shown by local contractors in helping the police address a recent surge of harassment activities by unidentified armed groups said to be demanding protection money from the contractors.
He averred that his office had sent invitations to contractors to ask for their cooperation in possibly launching entrapment operations against the perpetrators.
Several contractors interviewed by the Tribune, however, denied having received an official letter from the PNP provincial director inviting them to the meeting at Camp Francisco Camacho.
The meeting was allegedly called by Senior Supt. Fernandez after the police recorded two incidents of harassment and burning of equipment of contractors committed by armed men at separate construction sites in Pandan and San Andres last week.
In Baldoc, Pandan, while foreman Floribel Alforte, 50, was operating a backhoe at the road construction site of Cavite Ideal International Construction and Development Corporation (CavDeal) at around 8:28 P.M. of June 10, four unidentified men came.
One of them, described as of medium build, 5’4” in height, wearing short pants and more or less 23-24 years old, poked a Cal. 45 pistol at Alforte and said to him: “Baba at hindi ikaw ang kalaban namin, yong amo niyo ang may problema at hindi tumupad sa usapan.”
The armed man then poured gasoline on the backhoe and set fire to it.
Another suspect armed with a similar firearm also approached Marvin Alforte, 25, then operating a crane at some distance away from the backhoe.
He commanded the operator to step down and asked for the key, after which the suspect poured gasoline on the crane and burned it, along with the company’s barracks
The two CavDeal employees tried to extinguish the flames in an effort to control the damage to the equipment but then they heard a gunshot coming from high ground, prompting them to flee the area.
They later told the Pandan police that prior to the incident, the suspects passed by on board three motorcycles, with one of the back riders holding a blue container believed to be filled with gasoline.
The suspects then parked the motorcycles ahead of the construction site, using the same vehicles in escaping towards barangay Marambong.
After receiving the report, the Pandan police immediately coordinated with the Philippine Army personnel assigned at Tariwara, with the incident confirmed by CaVDeal Engr. Fernando Olfindo and the Baldoc barangay captain.
Two days later in barangay Asgad, San Andres, four employees of NQA Construction and Supply, were working on a road cementing project when they were harassed by four unidentified men armed with Cal. 45 pistols and a hand grenade.
Foreman Edison Pitajen, transit mixer driver Jose Primo Palao, checker Antonio Tud, and backhoe operator Christopher Hogo were at the construction site at 4 P.M. of June 12 when one of the suspects poked a gun at Hogo and forcibly got from them the key of the backhoe, two keys for the transit mixer and a key of the dumptruck.
“Dae kamong respeto, matapos na lamang ang project niyo dae garespeto ang amo niyo, ang engineer niyo,” the armed men said, before boarding a black tricycle towards Codon.
The harassment and burning incidents are the first to be reported for this year, although there are rumors that another contractor has been the victim of armed men who took the key of a construction equipment.
Asked about the renewed extortion and harassment activities allegedly committed by members of the New People’s Army in Catanduanes, 901st Infantry Brigade commander Col. Alden Juan Masagca told the Tribune that the Army has yet to establish whether the communist rebels are indeed responsible.
He said that in past incidents, the suspects did not identify themselves as NPA while the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines has never claimed responsibility for the threats related to extortion activities perpetrated against construction firms as well as business establishments.
A contractor with several big infrastructure projects being implemented under contract with the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) district and regional offices says otherwise, attesting the armed men who regularly demands payment of revolutionary tax really belong to the NPA command in the island.
“We cannot do anything but to comply or at best negotiate the amount,” he said, claiming that they are forced to do so to prevent their construction schedules from being delayed.
Another contractor confirmed that the armed demand three percent (3%) of the gross amount of the project cost, which he decried as “too much” since it would be taken out of their profit from the contract,
Some contractors have been known to bargain the “tax” to as low as one percent, it is claimed.
The contractors share the same view that it would be difficult to defy those asking for the “tax” especially if the project is out in the field and far from the town centers where there is no police or Army presence.
“Dai man ninda kayang magtao nin security sa project site,” they said, unlike the really big contractors who can afford to hire expensive personal and company security personnel.
There are reports that in at least one town, NPA tax collectors have been targeting sari-sari stores, transport operators, businessmen and professionals, including teachers, with barangay officials are allegedly assessed P50 to P100 each month.
The reports could not be independently verified.