LAOAG CITY, Ilocos Norte: Police operatives are investigating alleged harassment, intimidation and extortion activities of a group claiming to be from the New People’s Army (NPA) led by a certain Tomas, alias Kumander Lawin.
The group has reportedly collected more than P70,000 in protection money from two village chiefs in Banna town.
“This report is really alarming but we have to check its veracity. We have to be careful in releasing details because we have no concrete evidence yet to make the conclusion that these activities have really been committed by the alleged NPA rebels or not” Senior Insp. Artemio Clemente, Banna town chief of police, told mediamen.
Clemente said although the report is true, police are not yet convinced that the NPA rebels are still roaming the mountains of Banna town because this is the first time that these alleged extortion activities have happened.
Provincial Board Member Paul Baltazar, president of the Federated Associations of Barangay Chairmen, exposed such activities as he urged his fellow barangay (village) officials to report similar incidents to the police.
Baltazar, however, said he does not believe that those behind the “extortion” are NPA rebels, airing suspicion that members of a syndicate are only using the rebels’ name to carry out their illegal activities.
From 2010 up to the present, the military and police have on occasion spotted NPA rebels in the towns of Ilocos Norte particularly in the mountain areas but there have been no reports of violence or any abuses committed by them, a police officer told The Manila Times.
But the police officer said although this is a first incident, they consider it as violence perpetrated by the insurgents and must be solved as soon as possible.
A military officer who asked not to be identified said his team is conducting operations in the mountains to search for the hideout of the rebels’ newly formed Lawin group.
Meanwhile, the two unnamed village chairmen are now under police custody while their families are being guarded by the police and military.
The victims told police that the alleged extortion activities were conducted on December 12 and 25, before the NPA anniversary on December 26.
The barangay chairmen claimed that a group of heavily armed men led by someone who introduced himself as Kumander Lawin alternately visited their houses and demanded financial support for their anniversary celebrations and operations.
They were warned not to report to law enforcers what they saw if they want to continue living in peace.
JAIME G. AQUINO