The government’s renewed offensive against the New People’s Army is a welcome development and an appropriate response to the latter’s numerous attacks across the country, but 15 killed on the enemy side in a single operation is still shocking. The clash was obviously unusually fierce and desperate.
In my own experience – limited as it may be – with the Philippine Army, capturing the enemy alive, including making sure that medical assistance is extended to the wounded, seems to be preferable to killing the enemy. Not only isn’t there much glory in killing some poor farmer or lumad, however armed and dangerous he may be, death leaves scars that may never heal. A killed enemy might also become a martyr, in whom the family takes pride.
President Rodrigo Duterte recently canceled the peace talks with the communists, thus, officially completing his turnaround from having given them a seat at the high table after the elections. A few are still holding out, with former Gabriela Representative Liza Masa, head of the National Anti-Poverty Commission, the most prominent. However, she is reportedly marginalized in the Cabinet and not being invited to meetings. This is such a different situation from last year when the communists headed the Departments of Agrarian Reform and Social Welfare and Development, and with other comrades appointed as undersecretaries and commissioners.
It was the accidental killing of an infant by the NPA during an ambush in Talalak, Bukidnon that triggered Mr. Duterte’s tagging of the NPA as terrorists and calling off the peace talks officially. The NPA took responsibility for the death of the infant and apologized. On October 3, an NPA ambush on a police patrol car in Cauayan, Negros Occidental, resulted in the wounding of three civilians, whose vehicle just happened to be traversing the same road as the police vehicle.
Is this sufficient reason why the NPAs should be labeled as terrorists? Personally, I see nothing new in what the NPA is doing. Yes, they have stepped up their attacks across the country. But the attacks themselves – ambushing police, liquidating soldiers, military assets and former NPA members, extorting and raiding companies, destroying property – are old news. That is what the NPAs have been doing for decades. The modus operandi of the NPA has not changed fundamentally over the years – neither has the overall goal of the Communist Party of the Philippines: The communist revolution, the seizing of political power and the advent of a socialist Philippines remain the goals of the CPP. If the NPA is a terrorist organization today, so it was yesterday and last year.
The CPP and its armed wing and all their members and supporters have been consistent throughout the years. They grabbed the opportunity offered by Mr. Duterte when he invited them to be part of the government, no conditions asked. Unlike our mainstream politicians, the communists remain loyal to their political party and its ideology. They might enjoy the perks that come with the positions, but they don’t lose sight of their ultimate goal, the great communist revolution. This keeps them going.
While most of us might have focused on the end of armed conflict as the main objective and positive outcome of a peace agreement, for the communists it is the Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms (CASER). It is – or was – only upon the signing by both parties of the CASER that a joint ceasefire agreement would materialize. The communists’ demands under the CASER included the national – as opposed to private sector-led industrialization, and distribution of land for free to farmers, to mention some of the points.
The peace talks also involved political and constitutional reforms. What these contained in detail I do not know, but isn’t it the will of the sovereign people as exercised during general elections, that would determine the nature of any political and constitutional reforms, if any? What makes the Communist Party so special that it, in exchange for stopping its armed attacks, would be granted major political concessions? In the 2016 election, while winning seats under the party-list system, the communists could not garner enough popular support to have their lone senatorial candidate elected. Obviously, a majority of the voters are not in favor of communism. Waging an armed struggle might have earned the CPP the government’s attention, but not the public’s approval.
Yes, there is too much poverty, injustice, corruption and violence in the Philippines, much of which is the result of structural defects of the country’s socio-economic and political systems. Simply bringing in foreign investors to create more jobs and business opportunities is likely insufficient to alleviate poverty. But national industrialization? We are in the 3rd millennium, with the fates of nation states being shaped by climate change and information technology rather than steel production and national patrimony.