THE Armed Forces of the Philippines on Tuesday expressed concern over the extortion activities of the New People’s Army (NPA) in Mindanao which could affect businesses and the entry of new investments if not averted.
Eastern Mindanao Command (Eastmincom) chief Lt. Gen. Aurelio Baladad noted that for the first nine months of the year alone, the rebels have destroyed P300 million worth of equipment, a tenfold increase to last year’s P30 million.
“For me, it is disturbing because we want to attract investors here, so we must have peace and order. Businessmen want stability, so we are aligning our forces so that we can prevent their acts, such as what is happening now,” Baladad said.
The equipment were mostly owned by construction firms with projects in different parts of Mindanao, particularly in the eastern corridor where a great majority of rebel forces are concentrated.
Eastmincom has jurisdiction over Regions 10 and 11, including Davao, the Caraga Region, covering Agusan del Norte, Agusan del Sur, Surigao Del Norte and Surigao del Sur; and Misamis Occidental And Misamis Oriental and the cities of Cagayan de Oro and Gingoog.
Baladad estimated that as of the third quarter, there are some 2,100 active members of the NPA operating in the Eastmincom area of jurisdiction, mostly in Davao and Caraga Regions where 45 percent of the red fighters are concentrated.
Baladad said that in Eastern Mindanao, the NPA has collected some P30 million in revolutionary taxes from businesses during the first three quarters of the year.
“This is just an estimate, this is an intelligence reports. These are reports, not exact figures,” he pointed out.
Baladad did not admit that the NPA is gaining strength, saying that it was all for the money to maintain their forces and to project a position strength because of the stalled peace talks between the Communist Party of the Philippines and the government.
“They are trying to project that they are still a force to reckon with. Let’s talk. I think that is their message here,” Baladad said, stressing that the government is open to peace talks.
He said the military has initiated a series of talks with the stakeholders, specifically with contractors and the business community to avert similar incidents from happening in the future.
Baladad said contractors can coordinate with the military on the location of their projects so the military can protect the areas where they are working.