The government has deployed hundreds of extra military troops to Mindanao as it vowed on Wednesday to protect candidates for next month’s elections after communist rebels recently ramped up armed attacks, beginning with the ambush last weekend of Gingoog Mayor Ruth Guingona.
The New People’s Army (NPA), the rebels’ armed wing, was attacking “soft targets,” including politicians, to blackmail them into paying for “permits” to campaign without guerrilla interference, said presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda.
“You want to challenge us? Go ahead make our day,” Lacierda said, directly mocking the 4,000-strong NPA, as he announced the deployment of an additional 500 Marines to Mindanao.
To the candidates, Lacierda said: “There is only one armed forces and we will protect you.”
The insurgents ambushed Guingona, the 78-year-old mayor of Gingoog, Misamis Oriental, on Saturday, killing her bodyguard and driver and leaving her and two policemen wounded.
Guingona belongs to the ruling Liberal Party, and is married to former Vice President Teofisto Guingona. Her son is a senator.
After the ambush, the NPA warned politicians to seek permission before campaigning in their strongholds, and to refrain from bringing in armed bodyguards.
They stepped up their attacks in Mindanao on Tuesday, lobbing a grenade at a police station, exchanging fire with a military patrol and abducting a soldier in separate incidents, police said, adding that there were no casualties.
Lacierda said the battalion of Marines deployed to Mindanao would help police break up rebel-set roadblocks that were targeting politicians campaigning for the May 13 elections.
Armed Forces spokesperson Col. Arnulfo Burgos, Jr. said Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief Gen. Emmanuel Bautista had ordered “a relentless pursuit of the perpetrators responsible for the recent ambush on Mayor Guingona.”
Stop NPA roadblocks
But while in pursuit of the insurgents, the soldiers still have to adhere to the rules of engagement and the rule of law, Burgos said.
He said Bautista also ordered intensified security patrols “so that the NPA would not be able to establish roadblocks” like the one it set up in a remote Gingoog village when the insurgents ambushed Guingona’s entourage.
Burgos also urged politicians and the public to report the extortion activities of the NPA.
“If they receive an extortion letter from the NPA demanding money from them, they should report that to us right away so that we can act on it. Do not be afraid,” Burgos said.
Burgos said that the NPA’s so-called permit to campaign and permit to win “is a form of extortion.”
He also dismissed the statement of Bayan secretary general Renato Reyes, Jr. that there was an “ongoing civil war,” which the military allegedly refused to recognize as one of the two “bigger picture” in the issue with communists, the other one being the stalled peace talks with the government.
“There is no civil war. What they (NPAs) did (in Gingoog) was a violation of the law. What they did was murder,” Burgos said.
The government has held intermittent peace talks with the communists, without success, since 1986.
“We remain committed to pursue the peace talks, but it is clear to the (Filipino) people that they are not interested,” Lacierda said.
Meanwhile, communist insurgents in Compostela Valley attacked three unarmed soldiers from the peace and development team of the 71st Infantry Battalion in Barangay (village) Elizalde Maco early Wednesday, taking one of the soldiers captive.
The military identified the soldier as PFC Jesus Tomas. Government troops are pursuing the NPA rebels to secure the release of Tomas.—AFP with Nikko Dizon, Cynthia Balana and Germelina Lacorte, Inquirer Mindanao