Bloody Red Money: How the NPA earns from elections

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.

Villar: Why pay when they’re running with me?

Villar: Why pay when they’re running with me?
By Michael Lim Ubac
Philippine Daily Inquirer

DAVAO CITY—Why pay them when their friends are with us?

That, in effect, was what the Nacionalista Party (NP) standard-bearer, Sen. Manny Villar, said Tuesday as he denied television reports quoting the military as claiming he was among the politicians who had paid campaign fees to the communist New People’s Army (NPA).

“I haven’t paid any (rebel group),” Villar said at a press conference here. “Why should I still pay when they are already with us—they are our friends.”

Lest he be misconstrued, Villar explained he was referring to his alliance with Bayan Muna Rep. Satur Ocampo and Gabriela Rep. Liza Maza. Both militant party-list lawmakers are running for the Senate as NP guest candidates.

P5-B campaign fees

“Let’s clarify that we are with Bayan Muna or Makabayan (coalition). We are not (allied) with whoever is violating the law—they are not with us,” he said, referring to the NPA rebels.

“Those who are with us belong to the group within the system of government that also fights for human rights and the welfare of the poor,” Villar added.

Citing a report from an academic group, Election Commissioner Rene Sarmiento last week said fees being collected by the NPA this year to allow candidates to campaign unmolested in the rebels’ rural strongholds could amount to between P2 billion and P5 billion.

Villar said the allegation that he was on the list of candidates supposedly paying the NPA for campaign permits was part of a demolition job against him.

“There are many lists that you can see … but I pay no one,” he said.

Heated campaign

Villar said that as Election Day approached, “throwing black propaganda … would become heated. It should be expected that many lies will be thrown at you, hoping that the voters will believe them and so shave (your) votes.”

Villar also said that he believed no one among the national candidates was finding it hard to campaign “because, normally, we go to cities.”

“In fairness to all of us, I don’t think there’s any presidential candidate who is having problems about it,” he said.

Senatorial candidate Gilbert Remulla, the NP spokesperson, said the party would never comply with the rebels’ demand.

“Senator Villar has not paid and has no intention of paying a single centavo for any permit-to-campaign from any armed group,” Remulla said.

Form of extortion

The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) has slammed the reported NPA practice.

“The ‘permit to campaign scheme’ which, in plain language, is a form of extortion being perpetrated by the New People’s Army and other non-state actors, is repugnant in all possible ways to (the) valued human rights principles and standards, not only of candidates and political parties, but of the individual voters as well,” the CHR said in an advisory.

“This practice arrogates to the requiring group the powers rightfully belonging to the people and lawfully designated authorities. It disregards the rule of law, and scoffs at the principles of free, fair and genuine elections,” it said.

The report quoted by Sarmiento came from the Philippine Institute for Peace, Violence and Terrorism Research (PIPVTR), a group composed of experts and academics studying political violence and terrorism and their implications on the country’s security.

According to the report, communist rebels raised P1.5 billion during the 2004 elections and P2 billion in the 2007 elections from the permit-to-campaign fees.

P2M per political party

The military has lower figures. Its records show that the rebels’ permit-to-campaign collections amounted to P56.7 million and P27.6 million during the 2004 and 2007 elections, respectively.

Maj. Gen. Ruperto Pabustan, commander of the 9th Infantry Division, said that based on the “permit” cards recovered from NPA rebels in Caramoran, Catanduanes, the guerrillas were charging an entire political party about P2 million so they could campaign, especially in upland communities.

The documents show the NPA price for local candidates ranged between P150,000 and P1 million. With a report from Jocelyn R. Uy