Hours after the government dropped formal negotiations with communist rebels, 11 suspected New People’s Army guerrillas were arrested late Friday for extorting money from a politician in a remote village in Bulacan, security forces said on Saturday.
The rebels, believed to be “revolutionary tax” collectors of the communist movement, were all residents of Bulacan and were supposedly distributing letters that candidates for the local and congressional elections next month pay fees for “permits to campaign.”
Maj. Emmanuel Garcia, spokesman of the Army’s 56th Infantry Battalion, said government troops arrested the rebels at the boundary of Sitios Mahangin and Sapang in Barangay Kabayunan, Dona Remedios Trinidad town.
Garcia said they were in possession of two M-14 and three M-16 assault rifles, three caliber .45 pistols, four hand grenades and one shotgun plus subversive propaganda materials and medical supplies.
Military spokesman Col. Arnulfo Burgos Jr. said troops of the 56IB were able to capture the rebels based on information provided by residents that armed 30 insurgents were distributing open letters addressed to local candidates to pay for their “permits to campaign.”
Burgos said the rebels were also exacting two high-powered firearms from a local candidate in Bulacan, but the military declined to identify the politician.
After getting the tip, 56IB commander Lt. Col. Bernardo Ona created a task force in coordination with the police and they swooped down on an NPA encampment in the remote village and caught they rebels unaware while they were cleaning their guns.
The rebels, Garcia said, were not able to respond to the surprise attack, but several members of the rebel unit were able to escape. The ones who were arrested were brought to the Bulacan provincial police headquarters for inquest proceedings.
The arrested rebels were identified as Rodolfo Cruz, 65, resident of barangay Bigte, Norzagaray town; Rico Vicene, 43, a resident of San Jose del Monte City; Cyrhyl dela Cruz,19, resident of barangay Tibagan, Jayson Valmadrid, 25, a resident of barangay San Juan, Randy Puno, 33, Josefino Lupanco, 34, Angel Cabrera, 48; Alberto dela Cruz, 24, all of barangay Salangan, San Miguel town; Graciano dela Cruz, Billy Asuncion and William Asuncion.
Bulacan provincial police director Chief Supt. Joel Orduna said charges of illegal possession of firearms, violation of the election gun ban and the Human Security Act will filed against the arrested communist rebels.
The military had intensified its anti-insurgency operations in the wake of increased rebel activities across the country, including the ambush on Guingoog Mayor Ruth Guingona in Misamis Oriental that left two of her aides dead.
The NPA had also launched separate attacks in Occidental Mindoro on Friday, triggering a gunfight that resulted in the injury of three government troops.
The military also noted an increase in the extortion activities of the communist rebels and demanded that candidates in the congressional and local elections pay fees for “permits to campaign.” The fees could reach P100,000 depending on the position the candidate is seeking.
The arrest came after the government said it would stop negotiating with communist rebels, but would consider a new approach to end the communist rebellion that has lasted for more than four decades.
“The government doesn’t want to return to the regular track [formal talks] because it has been going nowhere for the past 27 years,” government negotiator Alexander Padilla said, but declined to give details about the “new approach.”
Padilla said the “mounting violence inflicted by the New People’s Army on civilians has eroded what little trust has been built over the years of trying to hammer out a peace agreement with the rebels.”
The talks between the government and the communist-led National Democratic Front were held in Norway for more than 20 years. The Norwegian government served as third-party facilitator.
Padilla said the government scuttled the peace talks because the NDF “always comes up with new and unreasonable demands … and we cannot wait forever for the other side if they continually refuse to go back to the negotiating table without preconditions.”
“We have always been open to resuming formal negotiations with them, but they keep on insisting on preconditions such as the release of their detained consultants,” Padilla said.
He said other than asking for the release of their consultants from military detention, the NDF was also demanding that the government abolish its programs like the Conditional Cash Transfer, which provides cash to indigents.
“These demands are just preposterous. We don’t want to engage in a negotiation where the other party is clearly fooling us,” Padilla said. “The ball is now in their hands. They were the ones who initiated the special track and they were the ones who ended it.” With Jess Malabanan
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