01 January 2006
The Philippines’ NPA still dreams of a Marxist state
Despite the disintegration of the Soviet Union, collapse of all Marxist regimes in East Europe, and China’s departure from the Maoist ideology, communist insurgents in Asia still dream of the establishment of Marxist states. It seems Asian countries’ notable moves towards more democratic reforms and openness in the last 15 years has not convinced them of dropping revolutionary armed struggle and seeking change through political means.
The best example is the New People’s Army (NPA), the military’s arm of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), which marked its 36th anniversary on December 26, making the movement one of the longest-running leftist insurgencies in Asia.
The NPA, which claims the Filipino people want it to defend their rights violated by “the fascist military”, has recently intensified its operations against government forces. Since September, there have been daily reports of successful offensives in rural areas by the NPA’s guerrillas, including attacks on military installations and convoys, planting landmines, and burning passenger buses.
The new round of offensive is believed to be aimed at exerting additional pressure on President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s weak administration. Arroyo recently survived an impeachment motion in Congress over allegations of vote-rigging and graft, but still suffers the consequences of the event.
This could be true, especially since the communist rebels have a record of resorting to military escalations whenever the government in Manila faces a political or constitutional crisis. For example, in the late 1990s when the country was reeling from the 1998 Asian economic crisis and ineffectual leadership of then president Joseph Estrada, they resumed full hostilities against government forces. As a result, sporadic clashes between the two sides were reported throughout 2001, including one of the bloodiest in over a decade.
Some observers, however, said that the recent escalation by the NPA must be viewed as a consequence of the suspension of the peace process between the government and the New Democratic Front, an umbrella group that represents the NPA and 13 smaller communist groups. Norway-brokered peace talks, begun early last year, stalled in June when Manila refused to help persuade the United States and some European countries to remove the communists from their terrorist blacklists.
This could also be true. Peace talks between the two sides, suspended and renewed several times since 1986, have always been followed by escalating rebel campaigns against government forces or vice-versa.
The NPA is classified by the Philippines government as the number one threat to national security, while the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) which seeks a separate Muslim state in the country’s southern provinces ranks second. This is due to several factors. One is the presence of communist guerillas in 69 of the country’s 79 provinces, Others include their use of extraordinary violent tactics, which have killed more than 40,000 people since the 1960s, and their abuses of peasants by imposing revolutionary taxes on them and forcing their children to join the NPA. The more important factor, however, is the rebels’ military strength, which is still considerable despite a split in the CPP, battle losses and surrenders. Independent sources currently estimate the number of the NPA’s fighters at 8,000. This, of course, is much less than their number in the 1980s when the movement reached its peak strength of about 26,000 fighters. Among reasons given for this is purging campaigns launched in 1988 and 1989 by communist rebels against their own comrades suspected of being government’s spies. The campaigns, similar to those of Mao’s in China and Pol Pot’s in Cambodia, resulted in the killing of more than 2,000 innocent rebels and supporters according to former CPP members.
Still unanswered is the question of whether the communist rebels can achieve their goal of a Marxist state in the Philippines or any other goal for that matter.
The answer, without hesitation, is NO. The CPP’s senior figures, many of whom live in self-imposed exile in the Netherlands including the party founder Jose Maria Sison, may continue directing violent operation from abroad. The NPA, in its turn, may continue fooling some by embracing the out-dated communist slogan of social justice or exploiting government’s mistakes. But the Philippine masses, who have experienced brutal regimes in the past and sacrificed for democracy, would not allow the return of any type of dictatorship, including proletarian dictatorship. Besides, neither regional players, nor international powers would let the Philippines fall in the hands of communists, especially now that the democratic and liberal tide is getting stronger.
*Academic researcher and lecturer on Asian affairs