Gov’t sends troops to protect candidates

Agence France-Presse

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The government deploys hundreds of extra troops as it vows to protect candidates for May's mid-term elections after communist guerillas ramped up armed attacks

MORE TROOPS. The Philippine government beefs up security in Mindanao amid a series of NPA attacks

MANILA, Philippines – The government deployed hundreds of extra troops as it vowed Wednesday, April 24 to protect candidates for next month’s mid-term elections after communist guerillas ramped up armed attacks.

The New People’s Army (NPA) was attacking “soft targets,” including politicians, to blackmail them into paying for “permits” to campaign without guerrilla interference, said President Benigno Aquino’s spokesman Edwin Lacierda.

“You want to challenge us? Go ahead make our day,” Lacierda said, directly mocking the 4,000-strong NPA, as he announced the deployment of an additional 500 marines to the country’s south.

To the candidates, he said: “There is only one armed forces and we will protect you.”

The guerrilla group ambushed Ruth Guingona, the 78-year-old mayor of Gingoog City in Misamis Oriental on Saturday, April 20, killing two of her aides and leaving her and two policemen wounded.

Guingona belongs to Aquino’s Liberal Party. She is the wife of former vice president Teofisto Guingona and mother of Senator Teofisto Guingona III.

The military’s Eastern Mindanao Command, which has jurisdiction over Misamis Oriental and other areas attacked by rebels, has a new commanding general, Maj Gen Ranier Cruz, who replaced the retired Lt Gen Jorge Segovia.

Rebel warning

After the ambush, the NPA warned politicians to seek permission before campaigning in their strongholds, and to refrain from bringing in armed bodyguards.

They stepped up their attacks in Mindanao on Tuesday, April 23, lobbing a grenade at a police station, exchanging fire with a military patrol and abducting a soldier in separate incidents, police said, adding that there were no casualties.

Lacierda said the battalion of marines deployed to Mindanao would help police break up rebel-set roadblocks that were targeting politicians campaigning for the May 13 elections.

More than 18,000 posts are at stake in the balloting, from town mayors and governors to members of parliament.

The military estimates the rebels have about 4,000 fighters nationwide, down from more than 26,000 at their peak in the 1980s. The government has held intermittent peace talks with them, without success, since 1986.

“We remain committed to pursue the peace talks, but it is clear to the (Filipino) people that they are not interested,” Lacierda said. –

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