COTABATO CITY, Philippines – Acting Governor Mujiv Hataman of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao has ordered the arrest of men posing as traffic law enforcers along highways in Maguindanao and mulcting commuters.
Hataman’s directive came after several commuters complained, through local radio stations here, that “men in blue” and identifying themselves as Land Transportation Office (LTO-ARMM) law enforcers were forcing commuters to fork over cash along the North Cotabato-Maguindanao highway.
“I have ordered the police and Army in the area to arrest these modern day extortionists,” Hataman said.
“We are trying to reform ARMM and these people are still into old culture of corruption…it is destroying our image,” Hataman, who was hand picked by President Benigno Aquino III to institute reforms in the natural resources-rich but also corruption-plagued region.
Media outfits here have been receiving complaints from hauler truck drivers and commuters about mulcting activities of fake LTO personnel.
“We have no traffic violations, our vehicle’s papers were complete and yet they keep on preventing us from passing through Datu Paglas town,” Delia Espanola, owner of multi-cab vehicle flagged down by fake LTO personnel in Datu Paglas, Maguindanao Friday.
“Is this the reform ARMM leaders are saying?” she asked. “These highway crocodiles have been there for a long time. Can Gov. Hataman or [Maguindanao] Gov. Esmael Mangudadatu do something?”
At the same time, Hataman ordered the inventory of all LTO-ARMM field personnel to determine the legitimate and the fake ones.
Espanola said the LTO personnel forced her to shell out P1,000 for non-existing traffic violations.
“I will never pass that way again because live crocodiles are victimizing innocent commuters like me,” she said, adding that she was hoping ARMM leaders would “wake up and do something.”
“Why is it that in Davao City, traffic law enforcers are not asking for money? Why are Maguindanao LTO personnel mulcting us and charging us with violations that do not exist?” she said, adding that her husband was flagged down early this week and his driver’s license was confiscated for not smiling at law enforcers.
“This is weird. Can you imagine? Where in the world will you be charged with traffic violations for not smiling?” she said.
Another commuter, a truck driver from Kidapawan City, also complained of excessive extortion.
“When these LTO men learned that we were transporting merchandise, they demanded protection money ranging from P500 to P1,500 every time we passed by Maguindanao,” Aniceto Buendia, truck driver, told the Philippine Daily Inquirer.
“These force our merchandise owners to add on the amount collected by LTO personnel to the cost of our goods,” Buendia said.