Philippine rebels rake it in from vote extortion: official

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Leftist Philippine rebels are raking in millions of dollars extorting money from candidates in next month's elections and will likely use this to buy guns, a senior military official said on Sunday.

Each candidate illegally pays between 50,000 and five million pesos ($1,210-121,000) to buy protection from the New People's Army (NPA), said Major-General Jose Mabanta, commander of one of the country's army divisions.

"My estimate is that half of all political contenders are paying, half in my area. That is also true in other areas," he told reporters.

Some 18,000 posts are up for grabs in the May 13 elections, from the current crop of town and city mayors, provincial governors and members of parliament.

"With the amounts involved, they (NPA) will be buying arms and ammunition and these may be fired and used against them (politicians)," Mabanta said, warning that giving money to the rebels is illegal.

The money raised dwarfs the amounts regularly extorted from mining, logging and other businesses based in the rural areas where the 4,000-member guerrilla force operates, he added.

"This is when really the NPAs make a killing out of their extortion," he added.

The NPA ambushed Ruth Guingona, the 78-year-old mayor of Gingoog city on the southern island of Mindanao on Saturday, killing two of her aides and leaving her and two policemen wounded.

Violence linked to the polls has claimed at least 46 lives in more than 40 incidents since campaigning began in February, according to a police tally.

The NPA has been waging a 44-year-old Maoist armed campaign that has claimed at least 30,000 lives, according to a government estimate.

Several rounds of peace talks held since the late 1980s have gone nowhere.

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