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NPA offers discount to candidates

LUCENA CITY—It’s cheaper by the dozen, even in terms of campaign fees collected by communist rebels in certain areas in Quezon province.

Candidates wanting to court voters unhampered in villages under the control of the communist New People’s Army (NPA) in Quezon may resort to getting group discounts in permit to campaign (PTC) fees so they can save money for the coming elections, according to an Army general.

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“Aside from demanding PTC fees from individual candidates, the NPA now offers a ‘one slate collection’ for candidates of a political party [in a particular town],” said Brig. Gen. Erick Parayno, commander of the Army’s 201st Infantry Brigade here.

Demand letter

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A candidate for councilor in one of the towns in central Quezon confirmed Parayno’s information.

The politician, who asked not to be named due to security concerns, said his group’s campaign manager had received a demand letter, supposedly from the NPA, asking their political party to settle the PTC fees of all municipal candidates in its slate.

“The letter advised the party to settle the PTC fees of all candidates in one payment in exchange for a discount of an unspecified amount,” he said.

But the candidate had said his group was caught in a bind as some of his party mates refused to pay, “as a matter of principle.”

“They just don’t want to submit themselves to the extortion scheme of the rebels,” he said. “Our group faces a dilemma because the party wants us to settle the problem by ourselves.”

Protection

In past elections, rebels had sought from candidates not only cash but also goods, like rice, other foodstuff, medicine, communication equipment and even mobile phone load credits, military and local officials said.

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Parayno said candidates had been sending feelers that they want to avail themselves of military and police protection during their sorties.

“And we expect more politicians to come to us before the official campaign period starts,” he said.

The campaign period for local candidates starts on March 25 and ends on May 7. Campaign activities are prohibited on March 25, Good Friday.

Parayno reiterated that the military would not give candidates individual security escorts but would only clear the campaign site of any threat from communist rebels or other armed groups.

“We won’t be acting as their personal bodyguards,” he said. “But in case of any clear threat on the ground, we’re always ready to come to their aid.”

‘Revolutionary tax’

Parayno said the NPA rebels were also asking candidates with business interests to pay a “revolutionary tax” on top of the PTC fee.

They have been targeting construction companies working on government infrastructure projects, he said.

A source in the local construction business said the rebels were asking for “millions of pesos” in exchange for unimpeded work in their project sites.

“Failure to settle means [contractors] are putting their heavy equipment and workers in the field in constant danger,” said the source.

No amount specified

The candidate said the rebels had not specified any amount for the PTC covering a party slate for a town.

“It will be discussed during the negotiation. But based on our understanding, the group fee will be cheaper,” he said.

In a previous interview, a former NPA leader, who now works as a consultant for a local government in Quezon, confirmed that a PTC fee demand letter contained no specific demand to a candidate.

But he said some candidates would not be asked to pay if the local NPA leadership would be convinced that they were sincere in serving the people and they did not have money.

A politician, who served for three terms as municipal councilor and later as vice mayor, said he paid the PTC fee through cash and goods.

“They asked for cell phone load, grocery items, rice and assorted medicines. I think it only cost me around P70,000,” he said. He also gave the rebels P30,000.

Asked if the PTC fee payment helped him win, he said: “I’d like to think that it helped because I won.”

However, the politician said he was thinking of not paying the PTC fee for his reelection bid this year.

“I’m not sure that the demand really came from NPA rebels. I only received a phone call from a male caller who introduced himself as the PTC collector in our area. But I did not believe him. He asked me to deposit P100,000 to a bank account; that’s not the style of genuine PTC collectors,” he said.

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