SOMEWHERE IN THE CORDILLERA—For years during the election season, receiving free meals for the community at a rally or guns and bullets from provincial candidates has been accepted in exchange for a permit to campaign in areas controlled by the communist New People’s Army (NPA).
But canned goods and worn-out pairs of shoes?
The government calls the practice “extortion,” but the NPA unit operating in Abra says it is more offended by politicians who “give so little respect to these permits-to-campaign (PTCs).”
“There are those who give canned goods … and then they make it appear as a donation [to the rebels], like relief goods. It is insulting to the revolutionary movement,” Diego Wadagan, spokesman of the NPA’s Agustin Begnalen Command, said in a recent interview.
“Here is one of the weirdest and insulting, so far—a few pairs of used shoes. It’s like [the NPA unit was] a flood victim [who] needed relief goods. Relief goods are donated by charitable people and not by a politician who needs to recognize our political authority as an emerging state or government,” he said.
Fees acceptable to the rebels in exchange for the PTC would vary from cash and food to mobile telephones, computers and guns, said Simon Naogsan, spokesman of the Cordillera Peoples Democratic Front, which serves as the political arm of the NPA in the Cordillera.
In 2007, the fees that the NPA collected from Cordillera politicians amounted to P500,000, said Naogsan, who is also known as “Ka Filiw.” The cash collections pay for the administrative operations of the NPA, as well as for the training of farmers, he said.
Wadagan said the PTC fee was similar to the revolutionary tax that rebels were collecting from companies and businesses that operate in NPA-controlled areas.
Reached on April 3 in Bangued, Abra, Senior Supt. Benjamin Lusad, Abra police director, said he and his men had been on alert for PTC transactions between candidates and rebels.
“Our local police are monitoring these activities in the province. But of course these activities are not allowed and must be stopped,” Lusad said.
The Cordillera police are closely watching 134 upland villages in the region which are characterized as “NPA-influenced.”
Wadagan said the rebels were operating through the Chadli Molintas Command in Abra, the Lejo Cawilan Command in Kalinga, the Leonardo Pacsi Command in Mt. Province, the Jennifer Cariño Command in Benguet, the Alfredo Cesar Command in Ilocos Sur and the Nona del Rosario Command in Ifugao.
The rebels also operate guerrilla fronts: the Procopio Tauro Front in north Abra, the Marcial Daggay Front in northwest Kalinga, and the Saulo Lumadao Front in south central Abra.
According to Wadagan, it has never been difficult for rebels and politicians to negotiate for access into rebel-controlled villages.
“But what has been hard is to make them understand and recognize our political authority,” he said because some politicians these days viewed the transactions as bribes or donations to the rebels.
Stressing that the rebels conduct comprehensive investigations of candidates, Wadagan said his group had allowed politicians, who do not have the resources, to conduct campaigns in far-flung areas.
“[Some small-town mayors] don’t have money. … If they offer to feed a group of farmers who are going to hold an assembly, that is fine with us. It does not have to be in cash; the important thing is they recognize our political authority,” he said.
The PTC is not a business deal and the NPA may exclude people no matter how much they are willing to pay to enter rebel areas, Wadagan said.
“If, for example, [fugitive and retired Maj. Gen.] Jovito Palparan decides to run, of course, we cannot allow him to campaign just because he is going to pay. Our point is, this is just not only about paying. It’s also about the issue of eligibility,” he said.
Submitting to the NPA authority means following certain guidelines, among them a prohibition against bringing along armed bodyguards except for a personal security aide, Wadagan said.
“Tutal, pumasok naman kayo sa area namin, kami na ang bahala sa security ninyo (You entered our area after all, so we will take care of your security),” he said.