PRESIDENT Duterte last week ordered the National Security Council to set up a National Task Force to deal with the country’s nearly half a century old communist-led armed insurgency.
Although the details of this task force have not been publicly released, it could mean that Duterte has decided to wage an all-out campaign to finally rid the country of this scourge that the Maoist Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) has suffered on the country.
If indeed he does so, Duterte would be the first Philippine president ever to take the communist insurgency bull by the horns, and finally take it down.
Not even the strongman Ferdinand Marcos really waged an all-out war against what was then the fledgling Communist Party of the Philippines and its New People’s Army.
This was mainly because the Muslim insurgency, led by the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), and financed and supported by Malaysia, was considered to be the more serious threat. To retaliate against the Philippines’ plans—made public by the Liberal Party senator Benigno Aquino, Jr.—to forcibly enforce its claim on Sabah, Malaysia even provided the Muslim insurgents the crucial ingredient that meant the tipping point for successful revolutions—refuge, which in the MNLF’s case, was in that disputed territory so accessible even by small boats.
Furthermore, the MNLF had succeeded in creating fake news of massacres of Muslim communities by Christians and by the Philippine military, and had appealed for help to the Muslim Middle Eastern countries that suddenly found themselves rich with petrodollars. Libyan strongman Moamar Ghadafi for a time even wanted to make the Philippines his first success story in exporting his type of Islamic socialism.
Mindanao nearly lost
As a result, nearly all of the country’s military forces were deployed to fight the MNLF, whose officers, because of their military training in Malaysia by British mercenaries, had proven to be at par with the governments’ officer corps.
Fortunato Abat, commanding general in the 1970s of the armed forces’ Central Mindanao Command (CEMCOM) wasn’t at all exaggerating when he titled his book on the Muslim insurgency: The Day We Nearly Lost Mindanao: How CEMCOM Checked the Secessionist Attempt to Establish a De Facto Bangsa Moro Republic in Cotabato.
For the Marcos government, the communists and their New People’s Army ceased to be a major threat after it intercepted two shipments of 10,000 M-14 assault rifles that China had sent to the NPA in 1972. With the establishment of diplomatic ties with China in 1977, Marcos also was assured that Mao Zedong had abandoned his support of the Philippine communists.
The first battalion-sized force of the NPA in Isabela was also routed by the military right after martial law was declared, resulting in the CPP chairman himself, Jose Ma. Sison, and his inner circle to be cut off from the NPA leadership for a year.
From then on, tasked to deal with the NPA as mere “peace and order concerns” were the regional commands of the Philippine Constabulary headed by Fidel Ramos, who for some inexplicable reason did not order an all-out campaign against the communists.
Instead, Ramos ordered his Manila-based crack unit, the 5th Constabulary Security Command, to “decapitate” the communist movement, that is, to hunt and arrest its leaders. The 5th CSU was so successful in its marching orders that Sison, the NPA commander Bernabe (“Ka Dante”) Buscayno, Sison’s prized convert from the military then Lt. Victor Corpuz, and most of his inner circle were captured in 1977.
But then Sison and the first core of the communist leadership were very easily replaced by even more intelligent young cadres who were more pragmatic, unlike Sison the Maoist dogmatist. Among these: the second CPP chairman and NPA head Rodolfo (“Commander Bilog” ) Salas, Mindanao Commission head Romulo Kintanar, NDF head Edgar Jopson, Manila-Rizal Committee head Filemon Lagman who directed the dreaded Alex Boncayao assassination squad in the metropolis; and Benito Tiamzon, purportedly the current party chairman. From then on, the communists mostly grew in such hinterlands as the Cordillera provinces, Samar, Bicol, the Davao provinces, and Surigao as localized insurgencies, led by regional party leaders who were very innovative in their strategies. Kintanar pioneered the concept of political-military struggles in the city that enabled the CPP to acquire a strong base at the outskirts of Davao City in the 1980s.
The growth of the communist insurgency was to a great extent due to the fact that the Marcos government believed that a peace pact similar to what it had reached with the MNLF could be achieved with them.
The Marcos regime was overtaken by events in the 1980s, with the strongman himself enfeebled by a serious kidney disease that required an organ transplant, and the global financial crisis hitting the country badly in 1981. The assassination of opposition figure Aquino drove many of the middle class against Marcos, and they supported the communists as their form of resistance to the strongman.
Corazon Aquino, who saw the communists as the Yellow Cult’s ally in toppling Marcos, put the CPP and the NPA on a diet of political and financial steroids. She released Sison and his inner circle who had been languishing in jail for nine years, and ordered the drafting of a constitution that allowed the communists front organizations to obtain seats in Congress, which they have since effectively used as propaganda and revenue-raising posts.
The country has been so much unlike its neighbors—Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, and Thailand—which had decided in one period of their history to militarily wipe out their communist insurgencies.
Instead, Aquino and all succeeding administrations chose to undertake continuous peace talks with the communists. The communists successfully even put themselves on the same level as a sovereign nation, whose representatives negotiate with the Republic of the Philippines in a foreign nation, mediated by a foreign government. The communists cleverly used the ceasefire to consolidate and expand its forces.
Recently, it has been almost hilarious that whenever a ranking party official is captured after much work by military intelligence, he claims to be an NDF consultant on the peace talks. If an NPA guerrilla or activist is caught, he claims to be a Bayan Muna organizer.
It is the provincial and regional commanders of the Philippine National Police (PNP) who have the task of wiping out the NPAs in their areas since by definition these are “lawless elements“ who want to topple the democratic government. Yet the PNP generals have never had the balls nor the interest in fighting the NPA.
Why should they, since it is better for them to have their province or region totally “peaceful,” without any military clashes with the NPA or any other armed group? Why should they, when they are, by the time they get to be generals and in command of a region or a province, just reaching the retirement age of 56, after which they will no longer be able to live in their secure camps nor have a squad of security men, and thus very vulnerable to an NPA hit squad. They have of course heard of PNP general Rolando Abadilla who was assassinated by the NPA years after he had retired. Why should they run after the NPA and risk being branded human rights violators, or “Butcher” as in the case of Army Gen. Jovito Palparan?
In the meantime, the communists have managed to convince a huge part of the Philippine opinion-making elites – especially the press – that, as the term invented by the NPA during the last years of martial law had it, “NPA” means “Nice People Around.”
The current media mindset has been: They are not terrorists, nor an organization driven by a totally discredited ideology out to impose a dictatorship, but simply idealistic Filipinos, driven to insurgency because of poverty and oligarchic rule in the country. Mainstream newspapers even routinely publish huge photos romanticizing the NPA that are practically its recruitment posters.
Can you imagine any other state university in the world in which one of its vice presidents – UP fictionist Jose Dalisay in this case – has his speech posted prominently in the university’s website that claims it is not his community’s problem that the NPA is enticing and fooling its young students to fight government and die for its lost cause, and that, as he even boasts, “rebellion and resistance are coded into UP’s DNA”? Shouldn’t the UP DNA be essentially to build the nation? Instead of “Iskolar ng Bayan,” Dalisay wants to nurture “Rebelde sa Bayan.”
No wonder then that we are the only country in this part of the world still grappling with an insurgency based on the notions of a 19th century philosopher Karl Marx, whose ideas had been implemented by such leaders as Mao Zedong and Pol Pot at the cost of hundreds of millions of lives brutally snuffed out.
It would be Duterte’s enduring legacy to the nation to end the pro-NPA mindset of the country’s opinion makers, and end the communist insurgency once and for all.