"Moving countryside Filipinos out of poverty is the only way to put an end to this."
A day in the latter part of December 1969 is one of the most significant days in this country’s post-World War II history. It was on that day, somewhere in Central Luzon, that the CPP (Communist Party of the Philippines) and its armed wing, the NPA (New People’s Army) were organized by Jose Ma. Sison and his fellow-ideologues.
Successive national administrations -- from that of President Ferdinand Marcos to that of the incumbent Chief Executive -- have deployed the totality of the nation’s military and police against the CPP-NPA and vowed to put an end to the communist insurgency before the end of their terms of office. But today, more than a half-century later - the CPP-NPA celebrated its 50th anniversary two years ago - the insurgency persists and continues to disrupt the lives of Filipinos residing in the nation’s hinterlands and to require the active attention of the PNP (Philippine National Police) and the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines).
The government’s attitude toward Mr. Sison and his people has alternated between hot and cold, between all-out war and ceasefire-peace-pending-negotiations. During his 20 years (1966-1986) in power, President Marcos waged a relentless war against the CPP-NPA, tracking down and jailing its leaders, including Jose Ma. Sison; as head of the PC-INP (Philippine Constabulary - Integrated National Police), Fidel Roxas was one of the lead implementors of Mr. Marcos’s policy.
When she became a revolutionary President in February 1986, one of Corazon Aquino’s first major acts was to grand freedom to Mr. Sison and the other CPP-NPA leaders, in the belief that they had mended their ideological ways and were now prepared to participate in a democratic and pluralistic governmental system. President Aquino’s fervent hopes were dashed by Mr. Sison, who, from a haven in The Netherlands, soon relaunched his organization’s insurgency against the government of this country.
Political commentators and intelligence-community analysts believed that the martial-law regime’s abuses and repressions were the CPP-NPA’s best recruiters. In the early 1980s, credible estimates of NPA strength placed this at 24,000 persons; today, four decades later, that number is down to between 4,000 and 5,000.
Most of the Presidents after Corazon Aquino - Fidel Ramos, Joseph Estrada, Gloria Arroyo, and Benigno Aquino III - strove to terminate the CPP-NPA insurgency during their term through a combination of force of arms and negotiation. But Rodrigo Duterte went further than that: He vowed to crush the CPP-NPA before the end of his term, which is June 30, 2022. Mr. Duterte, too, had tried the negotiations approach to lasting peace with the communists.
In response, Jose Ma. Sison has stated, arrogantly, that President Duterte’s threat will not materialize and that the CPP-NPA will outlast the Duterte administration.
It looks that way. There is less than a year left in the term of the Duterte presidency and the NPA’s disruptive activities show no signs of slowing down. The media continue to report armed clashes between the NPA and elements of the PNP and the AFP, NPA collection of what it calls “revolutionary taxes” and the destruction of crops and equipment of rural businessmen who refuse to pay such taxes.
In the CPP-NPA insurgency - one of two such insurgencies remaining in the world -- likely to end anytime soon? I don’t think so.
A lasting and final peace settlement with the CPP-NPA is unlikely, in my view, for as long as Jose Ma. Sison is its leader. Ateneo-educated Mr. Sison, now in his 70s, is feeling no pressure to come to terms with his country’s government. He has been living a comfortable life in The Netherlands with the protection of the Dutch government. Malacanang seeks him out - not the other way around - and he is accorded respect and courtesy. Were the CPP-NPA to sign a genuine peace accord with the government of this country, all of that would end and Mr. Sison would become just another politician. Such a prospect can hardly be attractive to the proud CPP-NPA chief.
The reality, as far as negotiations between CPP-NPA and the government are concerned, is that there is no one in the communist organization to match Jose Ma. Sison in stature, intellect, and capability. Mr. Sison is head and shoulders above his colleagues. He is the CPP-NPA.
From the standpoint of the success of its struggle to attain power, this country’s archipelagic character is both a plus and a minus factor for the CPP-NPA. Because the seat of government is in Luzon, the bulk of its forces must be deployed in the nation’s largest island. But it must maintain significant forces in all major islands if it is to have any credibility in those places. With its forces dispersed, CPP-NPA cannot hope to seize the reins of government, which are in Metro Manila.
In military terms, AFP-versus-CPP-NPA has always been a no-contest situation. The strength of the AFP and the strength of the CPP-NPA have over the years been moving in opposite directions: the Philippine Army has 12 infantry divisions while the CPP-NPA’s force has shrunk, as stated above, to 4,000-5,000/ Assuming a division size of 10,000 men, that’s approximately an 30-to-1 ratio.
Barring a totally unexpected socio-political catastrophe, there is absolutely no prospect of CPP-NPA attainment of political power. That does not mean that Jose Ma. Sison and his organization will disappear from the national scene and become insignificant. CPP-NPA will remain a significant part of this country’s political landscape, causing damage to life and property at every opportunity and seeking to alienate the rural folk from the government. Jose Ma. Sison and his organization are going nowhere, either militarily or politically.
The CPP-NPA will outlast the term of President Duterte, as Jose Ma. Sison boastfully predicted. And it will continue to exist - a dwindling bank of men and women left behind by the times - for as long as the government fails to effectively address poverty, chronic unemployment, low incomes, and the other economic problems that have long afflicted Filipinos luring in the countryside.
Moving countryside Filipinos out of poverty—at least making credible progress in that direction - is the only way to put an end to the CPP-NPA insurgency and take Jose Ma. Sison and his comrade-out of this country’s political landscape. The Duterte administration has no more time for that.