An overview and background
THE communists had planned to seat the then Davao City mayor, Rodrigo Duterte, as President of the Philippines, as early as 2010. This did not materialize because of the death of President Corazon C. Aquino on Aug. 1, 2009.This totally changed the political landscape and catapulted her son, B.S. Aquino 3rd, instead to the presidency.
The Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), despite being preempted, succeeded in entering the inner circle of the presidency. The party list AKBAYAN was among the major yellow forces constituted the political base of Noynoy Aquino. Its leader, Ronald Llamas, became the political adviser of Aquino. Llamas had years of political dealings with seasoned communist cadres. Through him, the CPP presented to Aquino a 10-point transition program toward the establishment of a unity coalition government. This was mostly accepted by Aquino.
But the talks failed. The President turned out to be too weak to pursue anything radical. He did not collaborate with the communists but his bias against the armed forces led to policies that restricted maneuverability in their fight against the insurgents. Communists and their sympathizers within government succeeded in redirecting the thrust of the anti-insurgency campaign. Instead of pursuing the insurgents, the armed forces allowed many disbanded communist guerrilla fronts to reestablish and expand.
Changes in the strategic and tactical approach of the communists in the Philippines are worth noting at this point. Unlike in the past, the CPP no longer maintains a strict segregation between combatants and non-combatants among its members. They are no longer vocal on the strategic sequence of their activities in the cities and the countryside.
The absence of clear and specific laws on subversion and armed rebellion enhanced the advantages of the changes in the communists’ strategic and tactical approach to armed rebellion. New People’s Army (NPA) members captured in actual encounters get released on bail within 72 hours by claiming membership in legally recognized communist fronts, and by claiming to be on some humanitarian mission in that particular area of encounter.
In the cities, NPA activities are overtly undertaken in safe houses declared as offices of communist front organizations.
The CPP considered Aquino inept and weak. Understandably, these negative attributes led to the flourishing of the communists during his watch. Most reverses suffered by the communists from previous administrations were overcome with a lot of devious assistance from the Aquino government. The much improved capability of the CPP to convert Philippine society to communism was clearly facilitated by the Aquino government.
Transition to communism
One campaign message of the new President should be considered with extreme seriousness. He said that should the existing political establishment and government machinery fail his promise of change, he would declare a revolutionary government.
By no means is this an empty campaign rhetoric. Those principally behind the presidency of Duterte knew this well beforehand. What was not made clear though, except to a privileged few, was the actual trajectory of this bold effort. The multitude of supporters joining the bandwagon most likely did not know it, either.
The series of actions taken by the new government even before it assumed office indicates that the CPP is a major force in the President’s political base. The new President is legitimizing and allowing the CPP to freely establish control over many government offices, thus giving the communists critical advantage to assert their brand of change in Philippine society.
The establishment of a revolutionary government requires a revolutionary force. It is becoming obvious that the new President has chosen the CPP, and its armed wing the NPA, as major partners in this endeavor. Duterte, about 15 years ago, had mentioned that he had, indeed, established cooperation with the CPP-NPA and was finding it near impossible to part with them.
The appointment of communists to his Cabinet actually grants the CPP a quasi-coalition status even ahead of formal negotiations. This dramatically increases the CPP’s advantage in the contest for control of the nation’s center of power. This political opening gives the communists a monumental boost toward achieving a strategic stalemate with government.
Disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) are an internationally accepted scheme of ending armed rebellion. A ceasefire or a cessation of hostilities agreement, when done outside the DDR framework, does not necessarily favor government and may even lead to the worsening of the armed conflict. From what we can read, the cessation of hostilities agreement or ceasefire being floated to government as the CPP’s welcoming present to the new President may very well be of this kind. It is a trap.
A cessation of hostilities agreement outside the DDR formula will put the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine National Police (PNP) at bay without any strategic setback on the part of the communists. With an improperly designed ceasefire agreement, the communists can freely concentrate on their consolidation of political influence among the organized masses and on their infiltration and sabotage efforts within government and the existing political establishment.
What the CPP can offer instead of a haphazard ceasefire, which would be a more genuine gesture of goodwill to the nation, is a CPP declaration to suspend, if not to stop for good, the forced imposition of their so-called revolutionary taxes. According to reliable sources, this collection amounts to much more than P200 million a month from business establishments in Mindanao alone. In addition, the CPP can also offer the suspension of what has been going on during these last several years, the forced occupation or organized squatting of government and privately owned lands by communist front organizations.
The new stalemate
The expected trajectory of communist action during the coming months is to gain a new stalemate with government. This will entail several strategic moves.
They will heighten class conflict by mobilizing the masses around land ownership, and labor related issues. It is to be expected that forced occupation and organized squatting on government and private lands both in cities and the countryside will increase dramatically. Intensified industrial disputes, pickets, rallies and strikes will be the new normal in the work place.
Squabble over land is among the most emotional issues in Philippine society. The countryside is anticipating this new front of conflict. Cadres and organs of the CPP have already alerted their circles of influence on the emerging ascendancy of their version of agrarian reform. Since the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) is now under a known bona fide communist, the communist version of agrarian reform is expected to parallel the existing one and be implemented as the preferred option of government. This means that forced occupation of government and private lands for free distribution to sympathetic organized masses will be allowed and even defended and financed by government.
One good indicator that the communist effort is already gaining toward stalemate is when the ideological division within government becomes acute, with open policy conflicts among government officials becoming publicly visible, and resulting in the near paralysis of important government programs.
Splitting government is a major strategic objective of the CPP in pushing for a stalemate status with government. It is an established practice of the communists in defining the enemy. Non-communists in government and elected officials not willing to capitulate to communist rule will be labeled as enemies of the people. They will be ostracized, their reputation destroyed and, eventually, removed from government. Those remaining will constitute the revolutionary government.
Establishing the revolutionary govt
Since some critical societal and government institutions will not readily consent to a shift to communist rule, the communists will attempt to weaken these institutions or, at best, neutralize their influence among the people.
So far, success in efforts to direct the nation toward revolutionary change have been due to the timely participation of two major institutions in Philippine society: the Churches and the AFP. This is well appreciated by all quarters aspiring to see change in the country and these include the communists. Unfortunately for them, the AFP has consistently shown its very strong opposition to any endeavor that could lead to communist rule. The Churches have shown ambivalence in the past.
Communist cadres hibernating these past decades are being activated. An alarming development is the ongoing call to meetings of former priests and pastors who were cadres of the CPP before and were largely responsible for the near control of the Catholic and Protestant churches, especially in Mindanao and the Visayas. This indicates the possible revival of the Christian for National Liberation (CNL), a major front of the communists tasked then to organize the nucleus of a “church” that will be controlled by the CPP. This will probably take the position of institutionally challenging the relevance and credibility of major Churches in Philippine society today.
One ominous development is the seeming tolerance, if not full acceptance by the people, of policy options leaning toward the culture of violence in the achievement of certain populist goals. Public acceptance of this culture of violence is key to the potential acceptability of the fundamental dictum that communists in the Philippines continue to adhere to: “political power comes from the barrel of a gun.”
How the churches will meet the challenge of this fundamentally disturbing societal issue is crucial. Philippine uprisings that cause change of governments in recent times had been peaceful. Unfortunately, these peaceful revolutions did not bring about the necessary changes needed by the people. The sudden rise of communism as a possible option carries with it the alternative to employ violence and killings to achieve change.
The NPA, armed wing of the communist party, is not designed to match or directly challenge the AFP. The primary role of the NPA is with the organized masses of the people; their job is to push and guide the organized masses in defying the authority of government. Their carefully orchestrated harassment activities against isolated and vulnerable personnel and units of the AFP and the PNP are intended to convince the masses that even the strongest coercive instruments of government are vulnerable, and that government can actually be defeated. Government can be overthrown.
The goal of the NPA is to bring under its command organized masses of the people that can be employed at will as mobs on pre-chosen circumstances. The NPA will not directly employ guns to confront the AFP. They will use organized masses as human shields. Should the armed forces decide to make a preemptive move against the establishment of the revolutionary government, they will be met and matched with seasoned mobs under the command and control of the NPA.
The AFP is known to oppose any form of communist rule. Destroying its credibility with the people will be a major objective of the communists. So far the rebuilding and development of the AFP to meet present and future challenges have not been seriously pursued during past administrations. Its near-conversion as the private army of the former dictatorship damaged the AFP to the core. Attempts of its succeeding officers’ corps to restore and preserve the integrity of the institution have not been given the full support it deserves by subsequent governments.
The declaration of the incoming Chief of Staff of the AFP that the armed forces will not allow a communist takeover in the Philippines should be appreciated with a realistic degree of caution. It will be the height of folly if concerned institutions will underestimate the ability of communists to take over government, with means other than the use of arms. The AFP may find itself as the sole and most pivotal formal institution of government to preserve what is left of democracy in the Philippines. It is important that the AFP, as an institution, fully appreciates the absolute necessity of consolidating its solidarity with the people and the importance of accurately determining where the sentiment of the greater majority of the people truly lies.
The new President apparently has chosen to ride and tame the tiger. Many in history have ended being eaten by the tiger instead. If the President 15 years ago found out that it was near impossible to part with the communists, more so now. Never before were the communists given this kind of window for victory and possibility of success in the acquisition of state power. No way will they willingly give up this golden and very rare opportunity, even when it comes to having to “eat” their host.