MANILA, Philippines (Update 1) - Suspected New People's Army rebels freed a mayoralty candidate and a former village official more than 24 hours after abducting them in Lupon town, Davao Oriental for refusing to pay extortion demands.
Initial reports said Lupon town, Davao Oriental independent mayoral candidate Arfran Larrobis Quinones and barangay leader Pedro Rosito were freed in Sitio Kalatagan in Lupon at around 8 p.m. Monday.
Police said the two seemed unhurt and only their guns were taken.
Eastern Mindanao Command spokesman Lt. Col. Randolph Cabangbang said the local Crisis Management Committee headed by Gov. Corazon Malanyaon negotiated with the kidnappers for the hostages' release.
Quinones, Pedro and seven other Quinones supporters were intercepted by the rebels at Marayag village in Lupon town last Sunday afternoon while on the way to a campaign sortie, allegedly due to their failure to pay permit to campaign fees of the insurgents. Seven of the victims were released three hours later.
Reports said Quinones and Pedro were released to Quinones’ wife, Luz, and to Fr. Medardo Salomia of Tarragona town, Davao Oriental.
Cabangbang said the military had actually issued a timeline of until 6 p.m. last Monday for the rebels to release the two victims. “If they would not release them, our troops will be forced to enter the scene. But the crisis committee told us to wait and they facilitated the release,” he said.
Authorities have yet to determine if ransom was paid for their release.
The abduction was one of several extortion efforts by communist rebels that have been linked to the national elections.
Sunday's incident came after NPA guerrillas last month briefly held three campaigners for a Davao mayoral candidate and burned their truck after the politician refused to pay their extortion demands, according to the military.
The military said last month the communists were set to rake in millions of dollars from extortion this year, thanks to protection money forked over by politicians running in the elections.
Candidates for posts ranging from village councillor all the way up to the president are being asked to pay between 5,000 and 20 million pesos (110 and 435,000 dollars) or their campaigners will be attacked, the military warned.
Military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Arnulfo Burgos told AFP Monday people were becoming more willing to inform the military about the activities of the NPA as civilians grew increasingly angry about the extortion efforts.
"Most of the encounters are in reaction to information given by civilians that there are NPA in their areas, that they are conducting extortion. The civilians are more cooperative and more vocal about this," he said.
Burgos also said the NPA was being forced to resort to more extortion activities as its grassroots' support was declining.
"The NPA are not getting support from their mass base which they used to have in the 1990s. They are losing support so they are resorting to extortion activities," he said.
There have been other flashes of communist-related violence in recent days.
In the town of Tagbina also in the south, on Saturday, NPA guerrillas briefly held a mayoral candidate and his bodyguard, demanding extortion money. But they freed him after negotiations, said Lieutenant Colonel Michele Anayron.
In another incident, soldiers, responding to the complaint of a candidate, drove off a team of 10 NPA guerrillas who were collecting extortion payments on Sunday in the small central island of Catanduanes, a military report said.
The NPA over the weekend denied they were involved in election-related violence, as it responded to police accusations that its rebels murdered a campaigner for an anti-communist party in Davao City last month.
"Abductions, tortures, murders and other strong-arm tactics are fascist methods that are absolutely against the principles of the revolutionary movement," the NPA said in a statement.
The NPA is the armed wing of the underground Communist Party of the Philippines, which has waged a decades-long Maoist rebellion that has claimed thousands of lives.
In recent years, in the face of declining support from overseas, the NPA has resorted increasingly to extorting money from rural businesses. With Agence France-Presse