A brief situationer
AT least now, it is in the open. The communists have announced that they are seeking nothing less than a coalition government as the price for a mutual ceasefire agreement. The preliminary meeting between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) this week in Oslo, Norway, will discuss the resumption of formal negotiations. On the agenda, according to Jose Maria Sison, is negotiation over the composition and program of a coalition government.
Actually the communists had, in the past, already succeeded in influencing the agenda of the GRP-CPP peace talks toward the establishment of a coalition government. For reasons not fully explained till now, the government panel then agreed to discuss a program of government rather than tackle first the matter of ceasefire or the internationally acceptable Demobilization, Disarmament and Reintegration formula. A clear agreement on DDR of the armed component of the insurgent group is an essential pre-condition to the discussion of possible political accommodations.
The talks with the communists failed during the Arroyo administration because of the firmness of the government side to rearrange the agenda of the talks and to discuss first a cessation of hostilities agreement within the DDR framework. The CPP will not admit then that they are seeking a coalition government but offered no satisfactory explanation why on their insistence, the peace talks should be focused first on discussing a program of government.
The Arroyo government launched an enhanced campaign during its last two remaining years, with an end-objective of “softening” the communist threat. The military component of this campaign succeeded in neutralizing more than 50 percent of all communist guerrilla fronts. Significant is the fact that neutralized guerrilla fronts are mostly in areas where the communists were supposedly most influential. With this gain, it was deemed then that peace talks with the communists can be resumed with the DDR framework as the prevailing mode.
The talks during the Aquino administration also failed, presumably over the core issue of coalition governance. However, the Aquino government either by sheer incompetence or by subterfuge of the imbedded communist elements in government, did manage to provide the communists ample resources and political space to recover from major reverses the movement suffered during past administrations. Substantial fund leakages from government programs flowing into the armed insurgency have been well monitored.
A fundamental distrust of the armed forces by key personalities in the Aquino government had its telling effect on the area of counter insurgency. The policy framework of the Aquino-initiated peace process actually placed the armed forces in the same category as the insurgents. The Armed Forces of the Philippines was viewed as an armed group that is equally threatening to the peace effort.
The other reason cited for the failure of the talks with the Aquino administration is the matter of the so-called political prisoners. The current government mission to restart the peace talks again mentioned the release of political prisoners as part of the confidence-building package of government. Indeed, according to both government and communist sources, all communist prisoners will be released soonest, as promised by the incoming President.
But what about the non-communist prisoners? Worth mentioning are two prominent non-communist prisoners of the Aquino administration: former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and AFP Major General Jovito S. Palparan. No less than the United Nations human rights committee has pronounced Arroyo’s detention as a case of political persecution. In Palparan’s case, the allegations against him pale in comparison to the crimes and atrocities committed or ordered by some of the communists who are about to be released.
Road to communism
The DDR framework is not applicable in instances where the communist insurgency has already gained control of substantial territory of the country and where the nation’s armed forces are already near helpless against the superior force of the insurgents. But despite the dramatic gains the communists achieved during the last five years, it is difficult to conclude that the communists are already in control of vast territories of the Philippines.
Despite the outmoded state of the equipment available to the Armed Forces of the Philippines, it is in no way near defeat against the New People’s Army (NPA). However, at no time in the history of communist struggle in the Philippines have the communists been offered the window of victory as in today. Among the most serious moves that we can anticipate from the incoming presidency is its complicity in the possible undertaking of a communist-led Palace coup. There are strong indications that the revolutionary government, mentioned by the incoming President during the campaign, will actually be established in partnership or in coalition with the communists. Coalition governance is a common practice in many advanced democracies in the world as in governments of some European states. These are countries where the communists have fully renounced armed struggle as a means of achieving state power, and are fully subscribing to the tenets of the democratic political system. Unfortunately, the leadership of the CPP, including those who have lived in Europe for decades, have not given up their Stalinist or totalitarian belief.
They continue to adhere to the Maoist dictum that political power comes from the barrel of the gun, and that the supremacy of the Communist Party is paramount even over the State.
The appointment of Communists to the new Cabinet even before the formal talks begin strongly indicates a pre-arrangement. This unusual move actually grants the communist insurgency a quasi-coalition status and consequently a direct opening to billions of disposable public funds and vast access to strategically important government services.
With these, the communists will have all they need to organize the critical mass necessary to counter any institutional opposition to their coup scheme. They will have the sufficient mass of the largely uninformed poor, to orchestrate the societal condition favorable to the imposition of a communist-led revolutionary government. Both cities and countryside will not be spared from organized turmoil.
The objective of a communist takeover is not limited to the takeover of government.
Communists aim to stay perpetually in power. To achieve this, they will also need to change society’s way of life. Most essential is to break down strongholds of independent public sentiment and spiritual beliefs. Churches, the press, and almost all forms of organizations and institutions that can address the people will be tolerated or allowed only if they remain subservient or useful to the Communist Party.
On the other hand it appears that the traditional political establishment has been given sufficient elbowroom to assert its continuing political dominance in the new government.
The behavior of these newly elected politicians, however, as they jockey for juicy positions, already indicates that they have very little understanding of what the people actually desire from them. It appears that Congress will live up to its reputation of being a major center of corruption in the country.
It is uncertain whether the present crop of elected officials will have the combined mettle to withstand an organized and major communist challenge from within, especially if truly the Palace is a tacit player in a coup that will ostensibly overthrow the traditional political establishment.
It is largely accepted that the United States plays a key role in the change of governments in the Philippines, a role that they play presumably to protect the gains of democracy in this part of the world. However, the United States recently is no longer alone as guardian of the region. China has risen as a challenge to US dominance. It is still largely verbal. But the incoming President has been loud with his anti-American sentiment. There are indications that the new President is gaining friendship with China. How will China react to the prospect of a new Philippines under a Duterte-CPP coalition government? Is the present day Chinese communist model viable in the Philippines?
There are major factors that make an insurgency gravely serious. One major factor is an insurgency that turns into a religious war. As witnessed in the world today, a religious war does not really benefit anyone. But it does create a near irreparable damage to societies hit by this scourge. It is hoped that the Muslim rebellion in the south will not be enticed by the communists to join in pushing Philippine society to the brink of violent upheaval, by shifting their struggle into a religious one.
The other major factor to watch is the success of an insurgent group to gain substantial external support: both material and political. This kind of external support is often gained when the potential of the insurgency gains viability, and the particular insurgency can serve as proxy to some tactical and strategic geo-political maneuver of the foreign donor.
Sufficient external support given at the critical time often spells the victory or defeat of an insurgency.
It remains to be seen which of the two superpowers will eventually gain more politico economic advantage in the country under the Duterte regime. The prevailing mood of the concerned world, however, is to wait and see. And this mood is also true even among institutions that will actually be affected most by the nation’s shift to communism. All must be forewarned, however, that the longer this “wait-and-see” attitude is maintained, the greater is the possibility of a communist takeover in the Philippines.
“… Ya no durmais, no durmais, Pues que no hay Paz in la tierra …”
– Santa Teresa de Avila (1515 – 1562)
Norberto B. Gonzales is a formerly National Security Adviser and Defense Secretary