DOING research on another topic at — believe it or not — the CIA’s Freedom of Information Act Electronic Reading Room at the US intelligence agency’s website, I chanced upon an entry “Philippine rebels targeting rights groups, churches.” It turned out to be a Washington Post article written in 1986 by William Branigin, a respected foreign correspondent here in the late 1980s, married to a patriotic and convivial Filipina, Bing.
I knew Bill as a very meticulous, careful journalist.
The following piece of his shows he was also bold. I’ve never read anywhere else such an exposé on the communists’strategy, and mind you, in that era, the communists’ death squads called the Alex Boncayao Brigade were roaming the city.
Why can’t our media write such real investigative pieces? Indeed, they have instead mostly become the disseminators of the propaganda output of such communist-infiltrated “rights groups, churches.”
Reading his piece, I got goose bumps: The piece was so prescient and it reads as if it had been reported yesterday. The “rebels” — i.e. the Communist Party — have indeed been so successful in this strategy that these “rights groups, churches” have been to this day the communists’ most potent propaganda weapon, and even recruitment offices.
Branigin’s 1986 Washington Post piece, slightly truncated to fit in this column space, follows:
According to Filipino and foreign sources, the Communist Party has infiltrated what it calls the “church sector” in the Philippines and forged links abroad with church groups, human rights organizations, labor unions and associations of expatriate Filipinos to a much greater extent than is publicly acknowledged here. The sources include Filipino political and military analysts, church leaders, western diplomats and researchers and communist officials and publications.
Some of the foreign groups are based in the US and raise money that is ultimately channeled to communist front organizations here, including church-affiliated human rights groups, or to the party itself, sources say. According to a report by the military, at least 90 human rights organizations in the Philippines serve as communist fronts.
The Communist Party tends to belittle reports of its infiltration activities and its use of front organizations as “red scare tactics” employed by its enemies. But communist publications, including captured internal documents, make clear that major party efforts are devoted to front-building and infiltration work, especially in church groups.
A Communist Party document entitled “General Orientation of Our Work Within the Church Sector,” for example, urges “comrades, activists and revolutionary mass organizations in the churches sector” to reach “a higher and deeper level of involvement and participation.”
“Under the guidance of the party,” members of the church sector “have put up legal organizations, programs and offices and have transformed existing [ones] to serve the revolutionary cause,” the paper says. It describes ways to use church leaders to influence Filipino moderates and develop international support.
An earlier paper, entitled “Nature of the Church Sector, Orientation of our Political Work and Tasks of Comrades Within the Sector” calls for the formation of “collectives” in church groups, congregations, seminaries and projects as part of an “underground network within the sector” linked up “through appropriate party units.”
Comrades who “penetrate the offices” of church institutions should set up mass organizations, especially ecumenical ones, in which “maximum independence and initiative can be exercised by party and national democratic elements,” it says.
The term “national democratic,” in Philippine communist terminology, usually refers to the National Democratic Front (NDF), an underground organization established in 1973. Communist propaganda calls the front a broad-based coalition that includes the Communist Party and the NPA — founded in 1968 and 1969 respectively — as well as noncommunist labor, student and church groups. In reality, however, the front is a creation of the party intended to complement the NPA’s armed struggle.
In their “letter of concern” sent to American churches in August, the US missionaries expressed support for the aims of the NDF and understanding for the armed struggle. The 25-page letter — published in booklet form and “endorsed” by 44 other foreign missionaries and 69 Filipino church leaders, including 15 bishops — also lobbied against US military aid to the Philippines and condemned the presence of large American naval and air bases in the country.
The letter described the front as “a broad political coalition aimed at transforming the country’s political and economic system toward nationalism and democracy.” The NPA, it said, “appears to be a well-led and disciplined force” that has provided simple community health services, curbed criminality and abuses by local officials and sought to “protect rural folk from intimidation” by the military and “numerous fanatic sects.”
The letter strongly disputed the assessment of a 1985 Senate Foreign Relations Committee staff report that “the NPA’s objective is to destroy Philippine democracy and to install a system where individual rights and dissent would be drastically curtailed if not abolished.” The NPA, the letter said, “is a broadly based popular movement of resistance against internal domination and repression by an elite class of Filipinos and external domination through unequal trade relations, dependent development and foreign military bases.” The guerrilla fighters “are not necessarily advocates of violence, but are willing to participate in a struggle which includes armed resistance” to transform society and achieve “genuine sharing of power among all classes,” it added.
The letter warned that the aim of US policy is “to crush the Philippine nationalist movement.” This policy will only prolong the “revolutionary turmoil” in the country, it said, and may lead to US military intervention so destructive that it would amount to “genocide.”
According to US officials in Washington, knowledgeable sources in the Philippines and literature published by the groups, five US-based organizations of them either have organizational links to the National Democratic Front or espouse specific National Democratic Front positions: the Church Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines, Friends of the Filipino People, the Alliance for Philippine Concerns, the Philippine Resource Center and the Philippine Support Committee.
The Washington-based Church Coalition is headed by Dante Simbulan, a graduate of the Philippine Military Academy and a popular former teacher in his native land. According to a congressional expert on the Philippine insurgency, the US government has identified Simbulan as having “definite links” to the Communist Party of the Philippines.
The group’s bimonthly publication, Philippine Witness, calls for “tax-deductible donations” through the United Methodist Church or the National Council of Churches. It describes the Church Coalition as a nonprofit ecumenical group that is the “US partner of the Ecumenical Partnership for International Concerns in the Philippines.”
This group and an organization it helped establish, Task Force Detainees of the Philippines, a self-described “human rights organization” affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church, have been reliably identified here as effective communist fronts. Another church-associated group that has been heavily infiltrated by communists, according to US congressional experts and sources here, is Basic Christian Communities, a nationwide organization active among peasants in remote rural areas.
A spokesman for the Church Coalition, the Rev. Doug Cunningham, a United Methodist minister, said in Washington that no members of the Ecumenical Partnership were National Democratic Front members per se, although some were active in Bayan, a leftist Philippine coalition set up in Manila in 1985.
According to Filipino political sources and Western diplomats, Bayan was founded essentially by Communist Party activists using an elderly former senator, Lorenzo Tanada, as a figurehead. The coalition, which claims about 500 affiliated groups totaling more than 1 million adherents, represents the party’s most successful united front-building effort to date, the sources said. An Australian scholar, John Whitehall, has called Bayan “a legal front for the illegal National Democratic Front.”
According to US congressional and administration sources, elements in the National Council of Churches and the United Church of Christ have had dealings with the front and have been involved in channeling donations to leftist Philippine groups that may be guerrilla fronts.
American officials said that while the US-based groups have been active in supporting the rebel cause, the bulk of foreign funding for the Philippine communists comes from Western Europe, mainly through church groups and labor unions there.
In a recent 31-page report on “Communism in the Philippines,” Australian scholar Whitehall said Task Force Detainees and a militant labor federation, the Kilusang Mayo Uno were among the leading communist fronts that receive large contributions from foreign sources. Another major front, he wrote, is the League of Filipino Students, which he called a “recruiting pool” for the Communist Party.
Task Force Detainees refuses to reveal the sources and amounts of its foreign contributions. Its chairman, Sister Mariani Dimaranan, denies it is procommunist and attributes such charges to a “massive CIA covert operation.”
Since its establishment in 1974 under the auspices of the Association of Major Religious Superiors in the Philippines, Task Force Detainees has accused government security forces of murdering more than 2,000 Filipinos, abducting more than 600 and illegally arresting, torturing, shooting or otherwise abusing the human rights of thousands of others. But the organization has never investigated an NPA execution or any other abuse committed by the rebels.