The communist insurgency: The Marcos-Aquino curse on the nation

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The Philippine elite and all Presidents after Marcos left it alone to grow
THERE are several unique features of our unlucky country that distinguish us from the rest of booming Southeast Asian nations, among them:

A weak sense of nationalism reflected in the fact we are the biggest migrant nation in the region; an exploitative Spanish- and Chinese-descended elite that does not really see itself as Filipino; a feeble state that is easily manipulated by the oligarchy; and a nation in inane awe of foreign capital that it allows foreigners to dominate telecoms and other public utilities even if the Constitution prohibits such.

The Philippines has another unique feature that a single administration could have corrected if only it had the political will: We have the longest standing communist insurgency, not only in Southeast Asia but in the whole world. Last December, the Communist Party of the Philippines celebrated its 48th anniversary.

Other Southeast Asian nations were of course not immune to communist insurgencies, especially since China under Mao Zedong tried to foment Marxist revolution in the region in order to construct a wall of communist client states around it to keep out US hegemony.

However, all such countries which faced communist insurgencies have crushed them more than two decades ago—except the Philippines.

THE LAST MAOISTS ON EARTH: The Philippine elite allowed them to grow.

The most brutal was by Indonesia: Suharto’s government from 1965 to 1966 wiped out—physically—Asia’s biggest communist party after China’s, in such a ferocious manner that about one million Indonesians of Chinese ethnicity were killed, not just by government troopers but by racist Javanese militias.

Malaysia and Singapore started to prosper only after their British colonial administrators, and then their independent governments, crushed the Malayan Communist Party, defeated by 1960. Thailand’s communist insurgency lasted from 1965 to 1983, with the ruthless crushing of its militant student movement in the infamous Thammasat University massacre in 1976, largely unprotested by the world.

One insurgency defeated
The Philippines actually defeated one communist insurgency, that one led in the early 1950s by the pro-Soviet Partido Komunista ng Pilipinas, which tried to mimic the Chinese model of developing an anti-Japanese army during World War II into a communist “People’s Liberation Army”. Its Hukbo ng Bayan Laban sa Hapon became the Hukbo na Magpapalaya sa Bayan (“Huks”). The Huks were crushed by 1954 by a popular President, Ramon Magsaysay, assisted—or led by the nose as some accounts would have it—by the US Central Intelligence Agency.

It was the newer, pro-Chinese communist party of the last Maoists on this planet, which has led the longest-running communist insurgency, with its so-called New People’s Army. That such a Maoist insurgency has raged for nearly five decades is astonishing, if you look at it.

Indeed, its strategy for capturing power—a people’s army emerging out of a Red base in the hinterlands and then encircling the cities (as Mao did in the 1940s)—in this day and age is so out of touch with reality that it is as patently insane as believing that a Divine Messiah will take over the reins of the Philippine government, because it is a devout Catholic nation.

Its major enemies—US imperialism in the Philippines and big landlords—may not have been completely vanquished, but have been inarguably defeated, as evidenced by the kicking out of all US military bases in the country and the passing of land reform laws.

There is no longer “US monopoly capital” dominating the economy, as Sison asserted in the 1970s, but an Indonesian monopoly capital, as it were, controlling telecoms and public utilities—about which, however, the communists are strangely quiet. China—which is the local communists’ beacon of Mao Zedong Thought and which even tried giving the NPA 10,00 M-14 rifles in 1971 to speed up the revolution—now has become the booming market of both ethnic Chinese and foreign capitalist billionaires.

To say that the communist insurgency persists because of Philippine poverty begs the question. Why aren’t there surging communist insurgencies in the poorest nations on the planet, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa like the Congo and Ethiopia?

Rather, the reasons for the emergence and persistence of the communist insurgency is an indictment of the Philippine elite.

The refusal of the strongman Marcos, supported by a faction of the Philippine elite, to step down when his regime was in decay, explains much of why the NPA expanded in the late 1970s until his fall in 1986. The Communist Party managed to portray itself as the only armed force capable of overthrowing a fascist dictatorship. The efforts of Marcos’ forces to defeat the NPA were spun as human rights abuses, thereby further demonizing it.

Marcos’ archenemies
But it was Marcos’ political enemies that nurtured the communist insurgency from its very inception in the late 1960s. It was Benigno S. Aquino, Jr. who linked up the college English teacher Sison and his young Maoists to Huk commander Dante and his surviving gang of Huks. The Cojuangcos allegedly financed heavily the new party and its NPA, and their vast Hacienda Luisita became the NPA’s refuge, its de facto Red base. Their motive? To make governing difficult for President Marcos who was gunning for a second term, and seemed to be succeeding.

Throughout martial law, it was the faction of the elite that was against Marcos that helped finance the NPA. Logging and mining companies of course did so not out of political motives, but out of sheer business opportunism. Provincial governors, such as those in the North, helped the NPA as long as it helped them defeat their political rivals.

President Corazon Aquino saw the communists as her allies against military mutineers, that one of her first orders when she assumed power in 1986 was to free all communist leaders, including Sison and Dante. Sison of course fled abroad to raise funds from Marxist organizations around the world, and to undertake global propaganda to propagate the party as a legitimate revolutionary quasi-state.

Even after a military-police faction fired upon leftist demonstrators that resulted in the infamous Mendiola massacre, the Cory government’s implicit policy was to let the communists alone, and seek a peaceful settlement with them. Cory even ordered a new 1987 Constitution to be formulated that would allow the communists to get their representatives into Congress through the so-called party-list system, which gave them a larger platform for propagating their demands, and even for getting government financing.

The communist insurgency has therefore been the curse put on the nation by both Marcos, during whose regime it grew, and Aquino who let it expand under her administration.

All succeeding Presidents—including President Duterte until last week—followed Cory’s policy of appeasement. This was especially so in the case of her son, Benigno S. Aquino III, who even let communist fronts hound and prosecute military commanders such as Gen. Jovito Palaparan who tried to suppress the NPA in his field of jurisdiction. There was of course an element of opportunism on the part of our Presidents, even in the case of the general in charge of fighting the NPA during martial law — President Fidel Ramos — as they wanted their terms to be without overt conflict, even as the insurgency covertly grew.

If our elite and their representatives, the Presidents of the Republic, have really left the communist insurgency alone, is it any wonder that it has existed for nearly five decades?

The communist insurgency has been a cancer all Presidents since Marcos have allowed to grow. Southeast Asian nations that faced communist insurgencies didn’t, and consequently extinguished them, removing a major block to their economies’ growth, and thereby allowing millions of their citizens and their descendants to live prosperous, happy lives.