Mayor in resource-rich SouthCot town claims getting NPA ‘death sentence’

KORONADAL CITY (MindaNews / 12 Feb) – The mayor of Tampakan, South Cotabato, host of the largest untapped copper-gold minefield in Southeast Asia, has been “meted the death penalty” allegedly by the “people’s court” of the New People’s Army (NPA).

Tampakan Mayor Leonard Escobillo. MindaNews file photo by GREGORIO C. BUENO

Mayor Leonard Escobillo said he got the information through text messages since Tuesday evening.

Escobillo, who succeeded his father Leonardo who served as mayor for three terms, appeared unfazed by the warning that NPA hit men would assassinate him.

“No amount of fear can stop me from serving my people,” he said, claiming that politics, though the elections remain two years away, could be behind the assassination plot.

The NPA’s Guerilla Front Far South Mindanao Region’s “hukumang bayan” or people’s court rendered the death punishment to Escobillo and his cousin, Alvin Castillanes, for their alleged anti-people’s activities, according to the text message the mayor shared.

A hit squad was formed to liquidate Escobillo, who allegedly killed some innocent people and grabbed lands in Barangays Pulabato and Lampitak using their purported private army, it added.

The mayor vehemently denied the accusations.

Lt. Col. Victorino Seño, 1002nd Infantry Brigade deputy chief for administration based in Malungon, Sarangani, said they will have to validate the information revealed by Escobillo.

The resource-rich Tampakan town has become a flashpoint for NPA attacks.

On New Year’s Day 2008, NPA rebels stormed and burned the basecamp of Sagittarius Mines, Inc. (SMI) in Barangay Tablu. The attack destroyed facilities worth at least P12 million. The rebels also took several firearms assigned to the firm’s private security guards.

In January 2009, communist guerillas also attacked the municipal police station in Poblacion, Tampakan, about 15 kilometers away from this city. Three policemen were wounded in the attack.

Recently, Escobillo said that SMI is keen on pushing the Tampakan project into the commercial production phase.

The Tampakan local government has endorsed the mining venture when SMI relaunched the project in the early 2000 after acquiring it from Australian firm Western Mining Corp., which originally discovered the mammoth deposits.

SMI’s contract with the Philippine government is due to expire in March 2020, but the firm was able to secure an extension of 12 years, documents obtained from the Mines and Geosciences Bureau-12 showed. (Bong S. Sarmiento / MindaNews)