THE New People's Army (NPA) raided on Monday a warehouse in Valencia City, Bukidnon as part of its operation called "Bawi sa Bugas."
Bukidnon police said communist rebels seized more than 1,200 sacks of rice worth P2.476 million from Valencia City Councilor Helen Bernal, a rice trader and owner of the warehouse.
The police said about 60 armed NPA members entered the compound and commandeered a truck loaded with about 470 sacks of rice, two forward trucks containing around 400 sacks, and a 10-wheeler truck also loaded with estimated 400 sacks.
The NPA rebels also took two Sony flat screen televisions, closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras, an automatic voltage regulator, and power tools.
Ariel Magbanwag, spokesperson of the NPA’s South-Central Bukidnon Sub-regional Command, said the seized rice would be distributed to hungry and drought-stricken farmers.
Magbanwag justified the raid, saying the Bernals are considered the “biggest comprador-usurer in the whole rice paddy area in Valencia City and its adjacent towns.”
She said Bernal controls the lives of peasants and small rice traders, adding that even investors are required to negotiate with her before they operate.
The NPA also accused Bernal of involvement in an allegedly anomalous transaction with the National Food Authority (NFA) concerning supposed rice smugglers in Iligan City.
"Despite the worsening hunger situation and the scarcity of rice produce due to prolonged drought, the thousands of sacks of rice owned by the taxpayers were discovered by the NPA attackers hidden in her giant warehouse complex which measures approximately three hectares," Magbanwag said.
Bernal also allegedly imposes high interest rates on debts of the peasants with 7 percent per month for all cash and overpriced farm inputs with the condition that all rice produce of the farmers would be sold only to her.
Magbanwag said Bernal treats her workers as “slaves” and not giving them overtime pay aside from giving unfair wages.
"If Helen Bernal could not extend humane attention to her own workers, how much more could she offer unto the farmers who would be extracted high interests out of debts and in grave cases, grabbed of their lands tilled?" the NPA said.
Meanwhile, Bernal denied she is hoarding thousands of bags of rice in her property.
In a radio interview Wednesday afternoon, Bernal denied the accusation of the NPA that she is hoarding rice.
Bernal said she was grateful that no one was killed or injured during the raid.
She said her warehouse doesn’t have any security guards as she believes her family has no known enemies in Bukidnon.
Bernal said they did not receive any previous warning from the NPA indicating that her family has never been targeted by the rebels.