Philippines sends troops to protect candidates

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 24 April, 2013, 5:59pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 24 April, 2013, 6:10pm

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

The New People’s Army 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 Maoist guerilla group ambushed Ruth Guingona, the 78-year-old mayor of Gingoog city on the southern island of Mindanao on Saturday, killing two of her aides and leaving her and two policemen wounded.

Guingona belongs to Aquino’s Liberal Party, and is married to a former vice president. Her son is a senator.

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, 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.