AFP WILL USE TEXT MESSAGING VS NPA EXTORTION

MANILA, December 30, 2003  (STAR) The military will use the Philippine mania for mobile text messaging to help curb extortion by communist insurgents from candidates in the May elections, a spokesman said yesterday.

Military spokesman Lt. Col. Daniel Lucero said the campaign would be similar to one used against the Abu Sayyaf Muslim kidnapping gang, which was active in Mindanao but has since been weakened by the capture of key leaders.

With the help of text messaging or short messaging system, candidates and the public at large will be able to report cases of extortion by the New People’s Army (NPA), the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines, Lucero said.

"We’ve done this before particularly in Abu Sayyaf areas. We’ve established hotlines where people can text," said Lucero in an interview with ABS-CBN television.

Cell phone text messages would allow callers to keep their identity secret while reporting extortion attempts, he said.

Cell phone text messages are hugely popular in the Philippines. News, gossip, jokes and greetings are exchanged among more than 18 million mobile phone subscribers.

NPA leaders have said they were collecting huge sums of money from candidates in the May national elections in exchange for "permits to campaign" in guerrilla-influenced areas.

Lucero said that in the last elections in 2001, the communists charged about P1 million for each senatorial candidate with smaller sums for gubernatorial and mayoral candidates. — AFP


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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