SURIGAO CITY (MindaNews / 11 Feb) – After retraining and already armed with the new Remington R4 rifles, the Philippine Army redeployed the 30th Infantry Battalion for poll duty in Surigao del Norte.
The 4th Infantry Division (4ID) also deployed the 16th Infantry Battalion, the 2nd Special Forces Battalion and a company of Scout Rangers in neighboring Surigao del Sur province to prevent the New People’s Army from extorting political candidates.
The Army also sent a small contingent of soldiers to Dinagat Island as a precaution against private armed groups (PAGS) and lawless elements.
“We are determined to stop the extortion activities by the rebels on the candidates this coming elections,” spokesperson Capt. Patrick Martinez said.
Martinez said the NPA rebels are making a killing selling permits to candidates planning to campaign in areas where they have some influence.
He said the rebels demand payments ranging from P50,000 to millions of pesos in exchange for not being harassed or taken hostage.
In an interview with journalists last year, Allan Juanito, spokesperson of the NPA’s North-Central Mindanao region, warned candidates to settle their permit-to-campaign fees and coordinate their movements inside guerilla-controlled villages and towns.
Juanito called the arrangement as “meeting of the mind or an agreement” between the candidates and the rebels.
“The fee is small. What is one million pesos? It is a small contribution to our peace agenda,” Juanito told reporters during the release of Army Corporal Adonis Jess Lupiba in Sugbongcogon town, Misamis Oriental last Nov. 26.
4ID chief Maj. Gen. Oscar Lactao has been doing the rounds to mayors and governors in Northern Mindanao clarifying the role of the Army soldiers in the coming May presidential, senatorial and local elections – which is protecting the ballots and officials of the Commission on Elections.
Surigao del Sur Comelec director Ernie Palanan welcomed the deployment of the soldiers in the Caraga Region.
Palanan said the current situation in Surigao del Sur is already tense because of intense rivalry between political candidates and the presence of NPA rebels.
He said San Miguel town is already placed under close watch because of the presence of rebels and the armed groups.