Last September, the Department of National Defense (DND) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) declared strategic victory against the communist-led rebellion by the New People’s Army (NPA).
The basis of this declaration, according to Acting DND Secretary Jose Faustino Jr., was the dismantling of more than 75 percent of guerrilla fronts nationwide. He said that from 89 in July 2016, there were now only five active NPA guerrilla fronts remaining.
The NPA’s capabilities, he added, have significantly diminished in the last few years due to the concerted efforts of the security sector.
For his part, DND spokesman Arsenio Andolong reported that as of September 20, a total 2,890 conflict-affected villages had been cleared through the AFP’s development support and security plan “Kapayapaan” and the DND’s Enhanced Comprehensive Local Integration Program.
Citing AFP data, Andolong said from July 1, 2016 to Sept. 26, 2022, a total 10,608 regular NPA members were neutralized, and more than 41,000 underground members, mass supporters and sympathizers withdrew their support from the Communist Party of the Philippines-National Democratic Front (CPP-NDF).
The DND said a total 4,644 NPA members were neutralized during the same period while a total 1,386 cities/municipalities and 31,254 villages nationwide had declared the CPP-NPA persona non grata.
Faustino gave credit to the contribution of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict to the government’s campaign against armed groups: “This victory, of course, cannot be credited only to the DND and AFP. We are inching closer to total victory, and the defense organization is hopeful for the continued support of the Filipino people.”
The defense and military establishment’s optimistic assessment of the national security situation is also based on battlefield successes by the AFP.
The Eastern Mindanao Command (Eastmincom), for instance, claims to have dismantled a total 26 guerrilla fronts of the NPA from 2017 to August 2022.
The Eastmincom chief reported that out of 56 guerrilla fronts destroyed, 18 were dismantled during his incumbency, or 50 percent of the total NPA units dissolved in Eastern Mindanao for the past six years.
Eastmincom said its joint task forces would be able to dismantle the few remaining guerrilla fronts and NPA vertical units in its coverage area through focused military operations, intensified stakeholder engagements, and support from former rebels.
So far, Eastmincom claims it has neutralized a total 4,797 NPA members since 2016, with 3,579 surrendered, 524 captured and 403 killed. The command also neutralized a total 101 top-ranking leaders, including national-level personalities.
Eastmincom troops also captured 1,388 anti-personnel mines and 4,607 assorted firearms composed of 2,732 high-powered and 1,875 low-powered weapons during combat operations, and facilitated the surrender of NPA members.
These battlefield accomplishments reflect the accelerated pace of counter-insurgency operations by the military.
In March this year, then Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana “there is more to be done” to put an end to the communist insurgency.
Lorenzana lamented that over the years, the NPA had committed lawless activities such as extortion and destruction of civilian-owned properties.
But he also pointed out that thousands of former rebels have been given the chance to become productive members of the society when they returned to the fold of the law.
While saying that a number of rebels have given up their firearms in exchange for a more peaceful life, “still, more efforts have to be exerted to end the armed conflict…Even as we enjoy the dividends of peace, we continue our mission to secure our communities, encourage the rebels to avail of the Enhanced Comprehensive Local Integration Program and finally put a stop to the decades-long communist armed conflict in the country.”
More recently, the DND assessed the NPA strength at only 2,000 regulars.
If this is true, this represents a significant decline from the 25,000 regulars that the military itself said was the peak of the rebels’ armed strength in the 1980s.
What the numbers suggest is that the military wants to declare all-out war against the communist-led rebels rather than accede to the stand of National Security Adviser Clarita Carlos for the Marcos Jr. administration to resume peace talks with the NDF.
We recall that that military had vowed to crush the NPA before the end of the Duterte administration.
That hasn’t happened, with occasional skirmishes between government troops and NPA guerrillas still taking place in various areas in the country.
To answer our own question, therefore, the days of the NPA may be numbered, but “strategic victory” for the government may not really translate into lasting peace in the near-term.