Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Hard Choice

The so called "ambush" attack last April 20 on a vehicle convoy in Barangay Binakalan, Gingoog City in Misamis Oriental by New People's Army rebels which resulted in the wounding of Mayor Ruthie Guingona of Gingoog City and the killing of her driver and one of the mayor's security escorts, has focused the nation's attention once more on the issue of how should political candidates during elections conduct themselves when doing campaign sorties and similar activities within areas claim by communist insurgents as part of their "territory".

Guingona, the 78 year old wife of former Vice President Teofisto Guingona, who will be stepping down after the May 2013 general elections suffered "shrapnel wounds in her arms and legs" as well as fractured bones in her hips and arms" according to her son, Senator Teofisto "TG" Guingona III. The mayor is presently still recovering after surgery in a Cagayan de Oro City hospital but is considered in a stable condition.

Jorge "Ka Oris" Madlos, the spokesman for the National Democratic Front of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP-NDF) in Mindanao, has in a public statement apologized to the mayor and her family and has said that the attack on the mayor's convoy was unintentional.  Madlos said that Guingona's security forces fired first on NPA forces manning a makeshift checkpoint and that the insurgents only returned fire in self-defense.  He further alleged  the NPA had only wanted to stop the mayor's vehicles, disarm her bodyguards and admonish her about "bringing armed escorts" into "NPA influenced areas."

Madlos has also tried to downplay the allegations from the government and the country's military leadership that the attack on Guingona is connected to the practice of NPA units extorting so called "permit to campaign fees" from politicians during election periods.  He has insisted that the incident was actually a consequence of the CPP-NPA's policy of conducting checkpoints in order to enforce their prohibition of the bringing of armed escorts by political candidates into their strongholds.

The government of President Benigno Aquino III and many of this country's political leaders on both sides of the political fence in this electoral season have expressed their outrage and condemnation of the NPA action.  Even Teddy CasiƱo who represents the the left-leaning Bayan Muna in Congress has "strongly criticized" the attack and has called upon the NPA leadership to thoroughly investigate the circumstances surrounding the incident, "to hold those responsible to account, to take remedial actions and make amends to the victims' families."  Whether, of course, his words will be given credence by those on the right and those in this country who believe that the leftist elements in Congress are merely the mouthpieces of the CCP and the NDF remains to be seen.

In addition to linking the attack to "extortion activities" by communist insurgents, MalacaƱang and the military top brass have also warned again politicians not to give in to NPA demands and that those caught doing so may end up facing criminal charges.  The implication here, naturally, is that the millions of pesos raised by the CPP-NPA during elections may end up being used to purchase arms, ammunition and equipment all of which will eventually be used against government forces fighting the decades old insurgency.

The CPP-NDF and the NPA has, of course, predictably refused to publicly confront this issue head on and has consistently managed to deviously and cleverly sidestep it by insisting in its official communiques that they do have the right to regulate access to their so called "areas of influence" and to insure candidates for public office adhere to the rules and guidelines of the revolutionary movement whenever they seek to enter such areas.  As to the specific question of whether the collection of permit to campaign fees and other similar dues is part of these rules and guidelines is something they have always refused to either clearly confirm or deny.

In the Lianga area where the communist insurgency continues to be an especially active and serious security threat, I have been quietly told by more than a few candidates running in the May 2013 general elections that in accordance with a longstanding nationwide practice during elections in the past, the NPA guerrilla fronts operating here have, if not overtly, solicited permit to campaign fees from them.  In fact, I have written a previous blog post on this issue in connection with the 2010 elections (see here).  But they also told me that local insurgent leaders have taken pains to emphasized to them that the local NPA leadership has decided at this time to adopt a more lenient and considerate policy regarding the actual collection of these fees since they do ask favors, whether financial or otherwise, from local politicians from time to time whether it happens to be election time or not.

In other words, politicians, whether veterans or first timers, are constantly and periodically being assessed on the basis of their accessibility and acceptability to the revolutionary movement.  Those considered more "friendly" and potentially "useful" in the future are accorded more preferential treatment, promised support, and may even be exempted from paying permit to campaign fees. On the other hand, it is also logical to presume that those considered  undesirable or less sympathetic or even antagonistic to the rebels and their cause are either forced to cough up with the money or are outrightly warned to keep out of NPA areas unless they and their campaign staff want to permanently exit not only politics but this world as well.

In the end, for those who have opted to join the political fray in the May elections, the question of whether the payment of permit to campaign fees and other dues, whether in actual cash or in kind, to an armed insurgent movement targeting the overthrow of the existing duly constituted government and substituting in its place another based on a political ideology that has largely been discredited and disowned all over the world is one clearly decided less on legality and morality but on pragmatism, practicality and expediency.  One ends up paying or giving what is asked and keeping silent about that fact because every electoral candidate wants and needs to win clearly and convincingly at the political game.

The Philippine government and the military can threaten politicians giving in to "solicitations" from the NPA all they want but in the world of politics as it is in the world of business, one invests precious money, time and effort in something because the he expects a worthy return on such investments.  To recoup, a political candidate must first get a mandate and to get a mandate he must win elections and to win elections he must have the necessary votes.

The people who comprise the leadership and mass base of the communist insurgency may, for practical purposes, be living outside the law and the pale of society but they are also undeniably and, no matter how you look at it, political constituents and potential voters. They constitute real and critical votes to be sought, wooed and finally secured no matter what the cost.

In the case of a small town like Lianga where, more often than not, candidates are running neck to neck for the same positions and where, in many cases, a few measly ballots can spell the difference between glorious victory and ignominious defeat, every single vote in the bag counts.  And any politico in his right mind will do anything even if he has to defy his very own government, knowingly violate the law and, to add insult to injury, even pay through the nose for the chance to get that extra edge.


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