Bloody Red Money: How the NPA earns from elections
By Nikolo M. Baua
“So ma’am, taga bundok daw po kayo dati?”
Marife, 27, laughed at the question. I didn’t know what the etiquette guide was on talking to former insurgents but my goal was clear, make her comfortable enough to explain how the New People’s Army (NPA) conducts revenue collection. Clearly, an icebreaker was needed.
Wearing a lilac blouse, jeans, earrings and three silver rings, Marife didn’t fit my image of a rebel. All my doubts, however, were erased as she talked with a rich Tagalog vocabulary that was accentuated with terms that unmistakably came from communist party propaganda.
Marife said she joined the NPA when she was 17 years old. She was promised a gun, equality and a better chance at life in the remote, poor, rural farm towns of Quezon province. After years of armed training, learning the Communist Manifesto by heart and living by the party rules and hierarchy, she became leader of a team of guerrilas assigned to collect money from candidates during the 2004 elections.
NPA revenue collection is done systematically and efficiently. As early as October, local candidates for the May elections are identified per province and background checks are made on their wealth and businesses. The NPA then forms teams of 3 to 4 rebels to focus on all candidates for a particular position in the entire province. The teams are assigned to talk, negotiate and collect from these candidates, like account managers of a sales company.
Initial contact is friendly. The rebels either visit the area of the candidate unarmed and/or send them a letter. Marife’s team was assigned to collect campaign fees from all the candidates for mayor in all 40 municipalities and cities in Quezon.
“Halimbawa, sasabihin ko lang ‘Good morning mayor, ako po si Ka-Julienne.’ Alam na ng mayor na NPA ang kausap niya at kung ano ang gusto namin. Kung hindi revolutionary tax, permit to campaign (PTC) o kaya pabor tulad ng sasakyan. Mainit ang pagtanggap nila sa amin,” she revealed.
The “solicitation letters” are interesting, to say the least. There’s a letterhead of the organization and a logo. There’s a control number so they know how many letters are sent and who receives them. The text is photocopied, back to back, on legal size paper.
The letter starts with how society and government have been degraded by corruption and ineptness. The last two paragraphs are the sales pitch. “Nananawagan po kami sa inyong supporta (We are calling for your support).” After reading this portion, the rebels are either shown the door or given assurance by the candidate that he is willing to enter into negotiation.
The second phase is the actual negotiation, which is usually held outside the territory of the candidate. This time, the rebels bring firearms and extra men. The politican is also allowed to bring an associate, usually a cop or a bodyguard.
According to Marife, candidates are charged different campaign fees depending on the position they are pursuing.
“Iba-iba ang presyo. Meron kaming sinusundan na palatuntunan. Ang mayor ng isang first class na municipality, nasa P100,000 ang halaga ng permit to campaign. Pwede sila tumawad hanggang P90,000. Kung kunwari hindi kaya at P75,000 lang talaga ang kaya, napag-uusapan naman. Hihingi kami ng 4 na computer na pwedeng pa-isa-isa ibibigay, o kaya sasakyan. May schedule na susundan,” she said.
She added that sometimes, the candidate is asked to campaign for a particular party-list group, which is being supported by the NPA.
Marife said the rebels focus on local officials who have to campaign in barangays and barrios that are controlled by the rebel group. She said national candidates often campaign in controlled city venues.
The third meeting is also held outside the candidate’s territory. There they agree on the terms and payments are made in cash. Candidates who refuse have to go through a process. “Sometimes, if they really have nothing, we just take whatever they give us,” said Marife.
She admitted that many politicians actually don’t pay permit-to-campaign fees of the NPA. She said some candidates pay up because they think that they will get support from the group. Others do it because they just want to get along or they want to protect their interests.
“Mananakot lang ang NPA, pero hanggang doon lang yon. Dito sa Quezon wala namang nasasaktan,” she said.
Marife said NPA members individually or as a group are banned from campaigning for any candidate or party-list group. “Hindi ito naaayon sa prinsipyo ng grupo, na kailangan pabagsakin ang gobyerno o ang sistemang corrupt. Kung merong nahuhuling nagkakampanya, may kaparusahan ito, pwedeng demotion o ililipat sa ibang lugar,” she said.
A former police chief who refused to be named said candidates do get punished by the rebels. This usually happens in remote provinces, beyond the reach of law enforcers and the scrutiny of the media.
“Meron silang parang kangaroo court, pinag-uusapan nila kung anong gagawin, kung pagbibigyan ba o paparusahan. May kilala akong kandidato sa pagkakonsehal, nilinaw niya sa NPA na mangingisda lang siya, walang pera at gusto lang manilbihan sa kapwa. Pinagbigyan siya. Nakukuha rin naman yan sa pakiusap,” he said.
He admitted, though, that paying campaign fees to the NPA has become an obligation in some provinces. He said some local officials tolerate the NPA because they can be used to solve simple disputes.
“The hands of the police and military are tied because of lack of people and resources. They can’t help the community solve simple disputes such as settling an argument or the theft of a cow. In these cases, local leaders use the NPA because they know the people and they have access and the problems are solved. What the local leaders don’t know is that the NPA actually started the argument or even stole the cow. The local leaders now owe the rebels a favor because they helped out, like a syndicate,” he said.
Marife said her group collected P942,000 from different mayoral candidates in Quezon in 2004. She said total collections for the entire province was about P5 million a month, from October to May.
“Quezon pa lang yan. Ang alam ko, mas malaki pa ang Rizal at Batangas. May internal audit din bawa’t probinsya. Pero pag nabigay na sa national, wala na. Hindi rin namin alam kung saan napupunta. Buhay ang kapalit kapag nabawasan ang koleksyon o kung may gastos na hindi maipaliwanag. Pero kahit diyan laganap ang korupsyon dahil yung iba hindi naman talaga dinedeklara ang tunay na binigay ng pulitiko,” she said.
Just last Saturday, 11 soldiers died in a clash in Oriental Mindoro after they responded to a reported “permit-to-campaign” negotiation. The following day, a rebel and 6 soldiers died allegedly for the same reason.
Last Tuesday, a candidate for city councilor was killed in a firefight between an NPA guerilla and government troops in Quezon province. The candidate was allegedly negotiating for his own permit to campaign when the shooting started.
Col. Cornelio Valencia Jr. of the 76th Infantry Battalion believes things could get worse in the coming weeks as the NPA ramps up efforts to collect as much money as they can from the candidates.
“Through the years, they’ve lost so much men and funds. They’re desperate to regain everything. The elections are their biggest source of income and they will take full advantage,” he said.
Valencia said the only way to stop the NPA’s extortion scheme is for all politicians to stop giving in to the rebels’ demands.
“It’s a terror cycle. If you give them money, you are giving them access to more guns and ammunition to raid and attack. You are giving them reason to ask for more money,” he said.