THE Philippine Army is eyeing extortion as the primary reason of alleged suspected rebels for burning the heavy equipment and bunkhouse of the National Irrigation Administration (NIA) in Barangay Tan-awan, Kabankalan City, Negros Occidental, on May 7.

Captain Ruel Llanes, civil-military operations officer of the 303rd Infantry Brigade, said Tuesday, May 8, that the perpetrators believed to be members of the New People’s Army (NPA) probably wanted to demand "extortion money" from the management of the firm responsible for the construction of a diversion dam and canal structure in the area.

In 2015, the NIA allocated a budget of P35 million for the Hilabangan irrigation project. However, Llanes said the perpetrators probably do not want to acknowledge such development in the area, prompting them to attack.

“Their attack greatly affected the residents in the area and the workers of the construction firm,” Llanes said, adding the irrigation project was supposed to help the farmers.

On May 7, about 10 to 20 armed men arrived in the area around 8 p.m. and fired several times but nobody was harmed.

The armed men burned the backhoe, generator set, water pump, welding machine, and bunkhouse of workers in the area.

Llanes said the rebels also told some of the workers and residents in the area that they have nothing to be scared because they have no involvement in their act.

Meanwhile, Llanes said they are coordinating with NIA and the construction firm for the filing of arson charges against the perpetrators.

He said they have yet to determine the cost of damage.