Philippines: The High Price of Rice and Bribes


April 7,2008: A recently retired army officer, Maj. Gen. Jose Barbieto, the former commander of the 4th Infantry Division, and one of his NCOs, are being prosecuted for taking bribes to allow unqualified men to join the army. As in many developing countries, with a high unemployment rate, being in the army is a good deal. People will pay to join, and that's what happened here. The general ran a scam whereby anyone who would pay a $500-700 bribe would get in. General Barbieto is the second general to be prosecuted in the last three years. Many others are believed to have gotten away with their crimes, since the two who have been arrested were being pretty blatant with their criminal activity (many of the recruits who bribed their way in were unqualified for military service and often could not get through basic training).

The communist NPA has intensified its campaign to collect "revolutionary taxes" (extortion payments). Particularly popular targets are trucking and bus companies that move through rural areas where the NPA is active. Just wait by the side of the road and stop vehicles belonging to a firm that has not paid. Burn vehicle and ask for payment again. The NPA depends on these payments to meet its payroll, and other expenses. The NPA has found kidnapping and extortion very lucrative. As long as the NPA move around in groups of 20 or more gunmen, they can deal with any police or army patrols they might run into. It takes a major military operation to run down these NPA groups. For over a year now, many of the best troops (marines and army rangers) are way down south going after Abu Sayyaf. This has taken some of the pressure off the NPA, which is vulnerable to destruction if the military makes a determined effort.

A worldwide rice shortage (driven by economic growth in China and India, which increases demand for food) has caused rice prices to increase by over 50 percent in the last year. Paying 35 cents a pound for rice is very bad for the third of Filipinos who live on less than two dollars a day. This also makes recruiting easier for the NPA and Islamic militant groups. The Philippines is the biggest importer of rice in Asia, buying nearly two million tons a year.

March 25, 2008: Back in February, an informer led police to a shallow grave on Tawi-tawi island, and claimed the dead man was terrorist leader Dulmatin (who has a $10 million price on his head, dead or alive, for leading the terrorists who committed the 2002 Bali bombings in Indonesia, which killed over 200 people). DNA from the body was tested and it turned out to be someone else. Dulmatin is still at large. In a related case, an Egyptian cleric, arrested last December and charged with terrorism, was cleared and allowed to return to Egypt.


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