KIDAPAWAN CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Jan. 26, 2008) - Traders in North Cotabato have asked the National Bureau of Investigation to investigate a mayor who allegedly confessed to paying “protection money” to the notorious Al-Khobar extortion ring.
Kidapawan City Mayor Rodulfo Gantuangco was said to have paid some P200,000 to the Al-Khobar after the gang had threatened to mount terror attacks if he did not pay up.
Gantuangco, who is also the chairman of the local peace and order council, allegedly admitted paying the gang, but insisted the money did not come from the government coffers.
The money was said to have been deposited to the bank account of a man identified as Nacir Abison. The first remittance of P100, 000 to Abison’s ATM account 1177-06531-1 at the Equitable PCI Bank in Ipil, capital town of Zamboanga-Sibugay, was allegedly deposited Nov. 26 by Insp. Benjamin Mauricio of the Kidapawan City police. The second installment of another P100, 000 was facilitated December 10.
But despite the payment, a powerful bomb exploded Nov. 26 at the Kidapawan Mega Center Corporation Mall, killing one worker and wounding 8 others.
Abison was said to have demanded the amount from the city government of Kidapawan City on behalf of the Al-Khobar, an extortion ring composed mostly of rogue Moro Islamic Liberation Front rebels, blamed for the spate of bombings of buses and commercial establishments in Central Mindanao over the past years.
Traders were incensed by Gantuangco’s alleged admission Tuesday over a local radio station dxCA that money was paid to the gang for the purpose of penetrating the Al-Khobar in an effort to arrest its members.
“That was a clear violation of the government’s policy criminal gangs of ransom for kidnapped victims and protection money in exchange for the safety of business outfits,” one trader said in a text message sent to reporters after hearing Gantuangco’s interview.
Local officials in North Cotabato said Gantuangco should be probed on the real source of the funds he paid the Al-Khobar.
“The objective of paying the Al-Khobar money may be justified, but just the same, paying the group money is virtually giving in to its extortion racket. The NBI should investigate on it,” One mayor in North Cotabato, said.
Dozens of people were killed and injured in Al-Khobar bombings in recent years and most of the victims were traders and provincial bus operators who refused to pay extortion money. (Jerick Wee)