A brief 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 that 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 re-establish 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.
The author is formerly National Security Adviser and Secretary of National Defense.