Kidapawan mayor defends payoff to extort group

Some members of the city council criticized Gantuangco after learning that the mayor gave P100,000 from his peace and order fund to Nacir Abison, an alleged leader of the Al Khobar extortion group.

In their session last Thursday, Councilor Greg Yarra, chair of the committee on ethics and public accountability, said Gantuangco's act violated the government's "no ransom" policy.

"This is also aside from the fact that the money that was deposited had come from peoples' taxes," Yarra said.

"Payment to a terror group should not become a reason for using peace and order fund of the LGU.   This fund should be used to maintain peace and order and not as payment to a terror group," he said.

The payoff, he stressed, has sent a 'different' signal to the business sector in the city.   

"This means the city government is not bent on crushing the terrorists, in fact, the mayor has even given them money coming from the city's coffers," the councilor added.

But Gantuangco disputed Yarra's claims saying he has "well-founded" reasons for doing it.

After giving the payoff, the mayor said, he executed an affidavit which the local PNP used in filing a case against Abison and other two Al Khobar operatives, including 23 high-profile personalities.

The case was filed last January 18 and five days later, Judge Rogelio Naresma of the Regional Trial Court here issued warrants of arrest for Abison and his co-accused.   

They were tagged as behind the November 22, 2007 bombing of the KMCC Mall here that killed a mall employee and injured eight others.

Gantuangco also said that immediately after the case was filed the foreign remittance account of Abison was frozen.

"That, in itself, was our big accomplishment in our drive to fight terrorism.  I, as the city's chief executive had helped the PNP, AFP, and other intelligence units in pinning down Al Khobar operatives, when I executed such affidavit after we made the deposits," he explained.

The money, he stressed, became 'collateral' or a guarantee for a covert yet legitimate anti-terror operation.

The mayor claimed that aside from him, other establishments, including big bus companies plying Southwestern Mindanao, big government-owned and controlled corporations, and local government units all over the country, had deposited money to Abison's account.

"But none of them was brave enough to executive an affidavit that the Al Khobar has extorted from them hundreds of thousands of protection money.  They all fear for their lives," he said.

He said he is bent on finding out who was responsible in making public a document he considered highly confidential or classified.

"We will make that person accountable for his/her action," he warned.

"We were surprised why such document has reached media, when it was already marked 'classified'.  Because of an irresponsible act, the legitimate operations of the police and the military against a certain terror group had been exposed and placed the lives of our operatives at risk," he said.

The document was made public through a local radio broadcast on January 22, a day before the RTC issued an order to arrest members of the Al Khobar and suspected bombers. (MindaNews)