Turning points

FROM THE STANDS - Domini M. Torrevillas -
The arrest of communist rebel commander Leopoldo Caluza may be the turning point in the government’s anti-insurgency campaign. Caluza, who was arrested last week in Baguio City, is a prize catch due to his long and high-profile stint in the rebel movement. After joining the New People’s Army (NPA) in 1982, he had led the provincial military department and provincial operational command of the NPA’s Nueva Ecija Provincial Committee and served as secretary of the Kilusang Larangang Gerilya 1/Front 1. At the time of his arrest, he was commander of the Regional Operation Command of the NPA-Central Luzon Regional Committee.

With his deep and high-level involvement in the rebel movement, Caluza definitely has a goldmine of information that may finally unravel the stranglehold of the NPA in the countryside. It is interesting to note that Caluza has reportedly expressed disillusionment with the communist movement due to its preoccupation with criminal activities. According to news reports, Caluza himself said he had wanted to give himself up since his 28-year old son was killed last March. Ironically, this rebel commander was among those tagged in the summary killing four years ago of Kathlyn Ramos, a 19-year-old student of the Central Luzon State University who was also a member of the League of Filipino Students (LFS). The student’s skeletal remains were exhumed two weeks ago in San Jose City, Nueva Ecija. Authorities disclosed that a former rebel had led the joint police-military team to the student’s unmarked grave. If that particular informant led authorities to smoke out Caluza, we can only imagine the damage a pliant Canuza will set off in the communist insurgency.

It’s high time that the communist insurgency is routed. The NPA’s attack two Sundays ago at the site of a major airport project in Silay City, Negros Occidental has set back much-needed progress in the province. Transport officials estimate that implementation of the airport project, which is one of the priority projects under President Arroyo’s super region program, will be delayed by several months. That means highly-anticipated revenues from the airport project and increased economic activity to be derived from its presence in Negros Occidental, will be held up as well. Already, most of the 1,400 local workers employed in the construction of the airport, have been laid off. Clearly, the damage is more than the P30 million worth of equipment that the NPA blew up.

Why was the bombing carried out? Because the Korean project builders refused to pay the P30 million in revolutionary tax that the NPA had demanded. On the side, the rebel attackers carted away the guns and ammunition of the guards at the airport project site, as part of its agaw-armas scheme.

"This is an act of terrorism and economic sabotage. It is the poor who will suffer from the delay in the work because the airport will create many job opportunities and other businesses in the area," Silay City Mayor Carlo Gamban lamented. Job prospects and tourism revenues for the entire province are on the line as well, according to Gov. Joseph Marañon.

The Negros attack is just one in a long list of criminal activities perpetrated by the NPA. Last August, Akbayan Party List Rep. Etta Rosales scored the rebel group for pouncing upon a community-based sugar trader because the latter could not cough up P30 million. Last year, eight similar attacks had been reported, mostly involving telecommunications and mining firms.

According to the military, the NPA maintains about 7,200 fighters, who are spread out in villages nationwide to attack rural troops, police and businesses that refuse extortion demands. Apparently, extortion has become its main activity. The going rate seems to be P30 million in Mindanao, while in Central Luzon and the Calabarzon area, the rate is reportedly pegged at P20 million.

Given this track record, there is no doubt that the NPA has become no more than a gang of bandits, in the mold of the Abu Sayyaf Group which did the country a huge disservice with its kidnap-for-ransom activities. The communist rebels should stop calling themselves the people’s protector; the people’s tormentor is more like it. After all, despite their self-proclaimed revolutionary role, their nefarious activities bring hardship to the poor they purport to serve.
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MEANWHILE on the economic front, we have attained a major turning point in the resilience of the peso. After hitting a four-year high earlier this month, the peso has held steady through the Thai coup, Typhoon Milenyo and more recently, North Korea’s nuclear test which has raked up geopolitical tensions around Asia.

According to Finance Sec. Margarito Teves, the government saves about P5 billion in annual debt payments for every P1 appreciation of the peso against the green-back. In fact, the stronger peso has led to P17 billion in government savings, which Budget Sec. Rolando Andaya has pointed out would redound to the economy as investments for much-needed infrastructure projects and the rehabilitation of typhoon-ravaged areas.

Imports also come cheaper with a stronger peso. To us consumers, this translates to tremendous savings. Already, pump prices of gasoline and diesel, as well as the purchase price of LPG have had successive rollbacks. We may have noticed as well the reduced rate of foreign currency adjustment in our electricity and phone bills. This is also probably the best time to buy consumer durables like TV sets, kitchen ranges/stoves, refrigerators, washing machines and mini-components. We could also expand our Christmas gift list with the lower cost of many other consumer items, including imported clothes and food items.

Exporters and families of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) are not exactly left out in the cold. The stronger peso benefits exporters in terms of lower cost of fuel and the imported components of the products they export. Moreover, there is less pressure on them for higher wage increases. OFW families that have invested in jeepneys and tricycles not only gain from the lower cost of fuel, but now have the option to expand their fleet, as imported machinery are cheaper than ever. Even if they now have less pesos for every dollar remitted to them, their money can now buy more goods because grocery items and clothes, which are mostly imported, are cheaper as well.

To me, the benefits of the stronger peso outweigh its disadvantages. It’s good that the government has resisted pressure to intervene in the market. That’s the way to go.
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My e-mail: [email protected]











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