Suspected rebels burn 12 buses in Tarlac

CAPAS, Tarlac—It took only 15 minutes on Sunday night for a group of armed men to burn 12 buses and an Isuzu Elf truck at the motor pool of Victory Liner Inc. in Barangay (village) Estrada here.

Police said the seven men, some of them wearing military camouflage uniforms, climbed the compound’s concrete fence and approached security guards Rizaldy Viray and Nardo Perez at the motor pool’s Gate 1 at 8:45 p.m. At gunpoint, they took three 9mm pistols and a mobile phone. They asked the guards to lie face down.

The group went into the compound and poured gasoline on the buses there, seven of which had no engines while the rest were scheduled for repairs, and set them ablaze.

The armed men brought security guards Viray, Perez, Ian Alimaco and Jestoni Peralta, and motor pool acting head Fernando Sabado outside the compound and fired three shots in the air as they left. Except for Viray, who was hit by a stray bullet in a finger, no one was hurt in the attack. Firemen put out the fire past 11 p.m.

Mayor Antonio Rodriguez Jr. said initial information reaching him showed that the New People’s Army (NPA) was responsible for the attack.

While police have yet to establish the reason for the attack, Rodriguez said they were looking at the possibility that this was related to the NPA’s demand for revolutionary taxes that the company had not paid.

Chief Superintendent Edgardo Ladao, Central Luzon police director, said Victory Liner representatives told investigators that the company had not received a demand letter from the NPA before the attack.

But he said the firm admitted that it received letters from the rebels in the past years, demanding payment of revolutionary tax.

Ladao did not say if Victory Liner, one of the biggest bus companies plying central and northern Luzon, gave the group any money.

Quoting reports he received, Rodriguez said Sunday’s attack was the fourth on the bus firm’s motor pool, some 500 meters from the national highway, in as many years. This was the biggest attack so far, he said.

Rodriguez said the NPA had claimed responsibility for the past three bus burning cases.

Major General Jessie Dellosa, commander of the military’s Northern Luzon Command based in Tarlac City, called the attack as “another NPA extortion demand that went wrong.”

He said the bus company did not yield to the NPA’s demand for revolutionary tax.

The NPA units operating in Tarlac or Central Luzon have yet to own up to the attack.

Victory Liner officials ordered the motor pool closed on Monday afternoon.

The Provincial Bus Operators Association of the Philippines condemned the burning of buses owned by Victory Liner, a member of the group.

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