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In `unlovely' town, Filipino wards off communists and military

``We have three enemies here: illegal loggers, the subversives, and the Philippines constabulary.'' Alfonso Lim comes from northern Luzon, but he still has the clipped accent of a Chinese businessman from Taiwan or Hong Kong.

Mr. Lim is probably the biggest businessman in the north. His logging and wood- processing company, Taggat Industries, employs 2,600 -- a smaller workforce than usual, an executive explains, as business is bad at the moment. Taggat's headquarters is in Claveria, a dusty, unlovely little town on the northernmost tip of the archipelago.

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Lim is also reputed to be the political kingmaker of the north -- a longstanding friend of President Ferdinand Marcos, with direct access to him.

Actually, he may be more than a friend: Some observers of the political scene in northern Luzon refer to Taggat as a ``semigovernmental'' corporation, implying that the President has an interest in it.

This is impossible to confirm, but a Taggat executive says that Lim's corporation manages three firms for the President: two logging concerns, Veterans and Sierra Madre, and Tropical Wood, a processing plant. Veterans Logging had exports worth 33 million pesos (about $1.8 million) last year, a poor year for the industry.

Taggat's headquarters is a slightly modernized version of an Industrial Revolution company town. It has its own village, hotel, saloon, technical institute, wharf, and landing strip -- the latter for Lim's private jet. Armed guards man the front gate. The repair yards are packed with heavy equipment.

Lim runs his empire from a small, rather dingy office at the back of his sawmill. The paint is not very new, and he has no filing cabinets or secretary. Books, ledgers, and files are piled along the walls.

Lim's talk is as plain as his office. He has two big worries these days: the ``sub-versives'' -- as he calls the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and its armed wing, the New People's Army (NPA) -- and the Philippines military.

The NPA, Lim says, is tightening its grip in Cagayan, long one of its main strongholds. ``The way things are going there isn't going to be an election here in '86,'' he says, referring to the planned local elections. ``We'll be communist by then.''

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The NPA, Lim says, is beating the military hands down.

Last year the Philippine Constabulary's Second Regional Command (Recom 2) -- which covers several provinces in northern Luzon -- lost more than 200 automatic weapons to the NPA. ``Of course, they won't admit that if you ask them,'' he says scornfully.

Lim clearly feels that his own security force is the only group actively going out after the NPA.

His approach to insurgency is ``energetic,'' a Taggat executive says. He has a security force of about 100 men, armed with high-powered automatic rifles, and he is training more. He also has three armored cars, equipped with 30-caliber machine guns.

``The subversives want protection money from me, but I don't pay. I fight,'' Lim says.

So does the NPA. Last November, 150 of them overran one Taggat logging site, destroying about 5 million pesos (about $280,000) worth of machinery and capturing 13 automatic rifles. They also burned one of his armored cars and took its machine gun.

``If we'd had four armored cars, we could have beat them off,'' says Taggat's manager, engineer Jovito Flores, as he shows a visitor the armored car, which is now under repair in Taggat's workshop.

``But we didn't have enough firepower to defend our perimeter.''

To remedy this, the company plans to fortify its logging sites with bullet-proof watchtowers and fences patrolled by Doberman pinschers. Engineer Flores shows a visitor a prototype tower. It has two inches of armor plating, he says, and is divided into four compartments ``to minimize grenade damage: If one man is hit the others can keep on fighting.''

Lim has a low opinion of the armed forces in the area. ``There's nothing wrong with the military here that couldn't be solved by firing 20 colonels and 20 generals. They're all on the take. That's the problem here: Military abuse starts at the top. A general is corrupt, so the officers act the same, then the enlisted men.''

Lim passes over two documents. One is a list of expenses from the military, about 14,000 pesos (about $780), the other a proposal to sell logs to Taggat for processing. He says both were sent by a senior military officer in the area, Colonel Batalla. The expenses are phony, Lim says.

``I'm not paying, and I've told him so.'' And the price the colonel is asking for the logs is ``way to high.'' Lim dismisses the proposal contemptuously.

``And see this item?'' He points to one of the overheads listed in the logging proposal. `` `For the boys.' That means a payoff for the NPA.''

``Other Recom officers were the same way,'' Lim said, ``Manlongat [the general in charge of Recom 2] and the rest. They're all as corrupt as each other. That's why no one will investigate. If one rocks the boat, they all go down.''

Most of the military men are incompetent as well, Lim continues.

``They go into the forests chasing the subversives with Caltex road maps,'' he says, assuring the visitor that he is not exaggerating. ``We have to loan them our maps. It's stupid, and they can't even read road maps properly.''

Sometimes, engineer Flores adds, the military do not respond to Taggat's reports of NPA movement or appeals for help. ``It's as if they want the situation to get worse so they can ask for more military aid.''

Lim flew to Manila last month to discuss with President Marcos the twin problems of insurgency and the military.

How did the President respond to all this?

``He can't rock the boat too much, otherwise there might be a coup,'' Lim says. There was, he says, ``a little talk'' of this in Manila.

When asked for details, he becomes uncharacteristically vague. Broad hints, however, tend in the direction of acting chief of staff Fidel Ramos -- whom Lim obviously holds in low esteem -- as the alleged coup leader.

(There have been a number of rumors alleging that General Ramos will attempt a coup, perhaps with American backing. Most observers do not feel the rumors are reliable.)

Lim's formula for beating the NPA is simple. ``Higher income for the people and superior firepower for us. There's no point capturing these people: They're out in a few weeks or a few years. We have to gain the balance of terror.''

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