PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte’s decision to end the protracted peace talks in Oslo, Norway, and resume armed hostilities between the government and the Communist Party of the Philippines/New People’s Army/National Democratic Front (CPP/NPA/NDF) seems to proclaim a strong belief that the peace process has failed, and that the military should now be called upon to end the world’s longest running communist insurgency in the battlefield. This is on the assumption that the call is not simply acoustic but real.
Very few theoreticians, if any, support this thesis; actual experience has shown that even the bloodiest of armed conflicts had to end in a negotiated peace settlement. The parties try to secure the best military advantage on the ground to improve their positions at the negotiating table, but never to write off a peace agreement. Until his recent mood swings intervened, DU30 himself seemed to support this position. But now he’s fed up with Joma Sison and the Tiamzon couple, and he wants war instead.
No doubt the Armed Forces of the Philippines stand ready to go after their nemesis for the past 50 years. They also look forward to seeing former military officers like Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan Jr., who have been detained for their role in the anti-communist campaign, released from jail like the top communist leaders whom DU30 had freed from detention in order to take part in the peace negotiations. But there are a number of issues that must be resolved for the benefit of the public before the cities and countryside become an open war zone.
The status of CPP/NPA/NDF
First, what happens to the legal status of the CPP/NPA/NDF and their members who are now part of the political mainstream? This deserves utmost consideration.
In 1957, the Anti-Subversion Act (RA 1700) outlawed the old CPP and other similar organizations. In 1969, the new CPP, founded by Lyceum Professor and chairman of the Kabataang Makabayan Jose Ma. Sison forged an alliance with the NPA under Bernabe Buscayno, aka Kumander Dante. In 1972, the CPP/NPA took their insurgency to the streets and became the principal justification for Ferdinand Marcos’ suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus and proclamation of martial law throughout the Philippines.
In 1980, having captured and jailed the CPP/NPA/NDF top leaders and (in his mistaken view) decimated the communist insurgency, Marcos lifted martial law and restored the privilege of habeas corpus throughout the Philippines. In 1983, the opposition leader Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr. was assassinated at the Manila international airport upon his return from the US, where he had been on medical furlough for the last three years, creating massive indignation protests here and abroad.
In 1986, Marcos was ousted by the civilian-backed military revolt, and replaced by Cory Aquino, Ninoy’s widow, as revolutionary president. One of the first things Cory did was to free the top communist leaders from detention, and allow them to travel abroad. Sison, Fr. Luis Jalandoni, and several others sought sanctuary in Utrecht, the Netherlands, others simply resumed their revolutionary activities in the countryside. In 1991, when the Cold War ended, and the Soviet Union disintegrated, the Filipino communists in Utrecht became the last communist stragglers in Europe.
In 1992, the Ramos government repealed RA1700 as amended, to allow members of the CPP/NPA/NDF to enter the political mainstream. This enabled` communist ideologues to run and get elected as party-list members of the House of Representatives, where they now sit. But the law failed to require members of the CPP/NPA/NDF to renounce armed struggle and to disarm, disband and reintegrate into the peaceful political mainstream, according to the normal protocol adopted by all other countries. Thus, they continued to intrude into the state’s exclusive right and power to use coercive physical force within the national territory and to impose taxes on the citizenry.
Despite the repeal of the anti-subversion law and the on-again and off-again peace talks, the armed struggle continued, and CPP/NPA/NDF armed partisans continued to kill agents of the state, without any legal consequences. A military officer suspected to have denied the human rights of a communist partisan was likely to be prosecuted and punished, but not an NPA operative who killed a barangay official. In most cases, as soon as a local killing was owned by or attributed to the NPA, it was dismissed as a closed case.
With respect to taxation, the CPP/NPA/NDF’s “revolutionary tax” has become truly legendary. In Caraga alone, local businessmen estimate that the communists collect not less than P1.8 billion a year from the mining firms, which seem almost eager to be taxed. During elections, local or national, they impose a tax on candidates who would like to campaign in their supposedly controlled areas; they sell not only the so-called “permit to campaign,” but beyond that, the “permit to win.”
They have become a criminal organization functioning as “another government.” How then does the government get rid of it? If the communists have no chance of taking over the duly constituted government, or at least coalescing with the government, what incentive do they have to pursue a peace agreement? This could explain some of the difficulties of the peace process.
A political misstep
DU30’s decision to appoint some of the CPP/NPA/NDF members to the Cabinet could have been a step in the right direction, had it been the result of a peace agreement, which puts an end to armed struggle and to “revolutionary taxes,” especially if supported by the people and Congress. After all, this is what’s happening all over Europe—former communists all embraced democratic politics once the Cold War ended. But DU30 failed to comply with the first basic requirement.
The communist presence in government was already a problem before DU30 airbrushed the peace talks; it becomes so much more of a problem if and when the Armed Forces begin to battle the NPA in the city and countryside. If DU30’s communist appointees remain in government, while the Armed Forces fight the communist guerrillas in the hills and the streets, how could the President assure himself of popular support? The people would be confused.
Whom to confuse
In war, Sun Tzu says the whole secret lies in confusing the enemy so that he will not know our real intent; but no commander can afford to confuse his own troops. In the present instance, DU30 would be confusing his own troops. If they are at war with the communists, why are there still communists in the Cabinet? In the early 1990s, the members of the CPP/NPA/NDF split into the Reaffirmists and the Rejectionists. Those who continued to support Sison’s leadership were called Reaffirmist, while those who rejected it were called Rejectionist. By around 1998, it appears that the pro-Sison faction prevailed, and became known as the Sisonites. DU30 has since threatened to throw Sison in jail should he return to the Philippines.
Does this mean DU30’s war with the CPP/NPA/NDF is limited to the Sisonites, but does not extend to Cabinet Secretary Leoncio Evasco Jr.’s communist colleagues? How is one group to be distinguished from the other, and who will make the distinction for our people and the Armed Forces? Is there in fact a real distinction between the two factions, or is the distinction false? Is there no risk that while one faction tries to distract the government force, the other faction attacks the rear, to accomplish what Napoleon called strategic envelopment?
It seems almost unthinkable, but unless DU30 draws the line clearly and unmistakably between the government and all the communist forces, by cleansing and disinfecting the Cabinet and the bureaucracy of all communist elements, there is a real danger that DU30’s war against the communists would be denounced as bogus, or if it’s indeed real, the government could be outsmarted and overwhelmed by the enemy forces.
In the last couple of years, according to highly reliable intelligence sources, a number of high-ranking communist officials from abroad have been seconded to the Philippines to help plan an urban insurrection in Luzon, while various national security incidents steadily draw at least two-thirds of the Armed Forces to Mindanao. At the same time clandestine shipments of arms from North Korea have reportedly found their way into the hands of the Moro army committee of the CPP/NPA/NDF, which has built a considerable weapons inventory close to the nation’s capital.