Bukidnon governor tells rebs to show sincerity in peace talks, stop ‘extortion’

MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/28 February) – Communist rebels should stop their “extortion” activities if they are really sincere in their efforts to talk peace with the government, Bukidnon Gov. Alex Calingasan said.

Calingasan hit the New People’s Army, armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines, for allegedly resorting to burning or destroying equipment owned by companies that refused to pay “revolutionary taxes”.

He said Bukidnon’s economy has been affected by the NPA’s alleged extortion activities, causing some firms like poultry farms to shut down rather than give in to the rebels’ demands.

Reports said the NPA admitted to burning a truck carrying fruits of an agricultural firm this month.

In a statement, the Ernesto “Boyboy” Roa Command Front 6 of the NPA said that they “disabled” five equipment used by the Eagle Mining Company in Sitio Opis, Barangay Namnam, San Fernando town.

In another statement attributed to “Ka Norsen” of the Julito Tiro Command North Central Mindanao Region, the NPA belied the military’s accusation that the rebels launched punitive action against the company for refusing to pay “revolutionary tax”.

The rebel group said “punitive action was handed down to the said company for its environmentally destructive mining operations, for ignoring the demand of the Lumad in the area and church people for mining to stop, and, for threatening to file cases against and summarily killing some leaders who opposed the operations of the company”.

“It is difficult to talk peace when they continue with their illegal activities,” Calingasan told reporters last week at the Army’s Camp Osito Bahian where he led the opening rites of the training of 192 Special Civilian Armed Forces Geographical Unit Active Auxiliary (SCAA) volunteers.

He said the collection of “revolutionary taxes” and the burning of equipment has made him doubt the success of the peace process.

The governor also declined to declare Bukidnon insurgency-free, as earlier proposed by Valencia City Mayor Leandro Jose Catarata.

He said the NPA still poses a threat in Bukidnon, although its operations are only sporadic.

Calingasan has supported the training and deployment of SCAAs in Bukidnon to help fight insurgency.

The provincial government is sharing the cost of training and maintaining the SCAAs with the municipalities of Impasug-ong, Pangantucan, Malitbog and Kadingilan. A platoon of 48 SCAA volunteers is eyed for each town.

With an initial combined budget of P3.7536 million, the provincial and municipal governments signed an agreement with the 403rd brigade for the latter to train, supervise and arm the SCAA companies.

Peace talks between the government and the National Democratic Front, the umbrella organization of Philippine communist-led rebel groups, formally resumed the other week in Oslo, Norway.

Since 1986, the NDF has entered into on-and-off peace negotiations with the Philippine government in a bid to forge a political settlement with Asia’s longest running insurgency. (Walter I. Balane/MindaNews)