The Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia signed a peace deal in Havana on 26 August 2016 that will end what is perhaps the longest insurgency in the world. The conflict which started in 1964, has killed 220,000 people and has displaced about six million of the country’s 50 million population.
In many ways, that conflict was a lot more brutal than our conflict with the Communist Party of the Philippines/New People’s Army. Because of our ongoing peace negotiation with the National Democratic Front in Oslo, Norway, it is perhaps instructive to compare the two revolutionary movements.
The FARC of Colombia, like the CPP/NPA of Jose Maria Sison, did not simply sprout in 1964. The FARC is the product of the long-standing internecine warfare that has been going on in Colombia since the end of the World War II and even earlier. When first organized, it was a Marxist-Leninist movement and at the height of its power, had approximately 26,000 armed combatants and controlled a sizable chunk of the vast Colombian territory. FARC freely operated in an area of about 196,000 squares miles which is one and a half times the area of the Philippines.
Like the CPP/NPA, the FARC promoted agrarian reform and anti-imperialism. In the populated areas that they controlled, the FARC ran their own system of government. The FARC’s yearly income has been estimated to be around $300 million derived initially from kidnapping like our Abu Sayyaf but then branched out to the coca trade which brought in a much bigger take.
As was the situation here, the Colombian government and the FARC tried many times to sign a peace agreement—but failed, triggering a much bloodier conflict. Now, the peace deal has finally been signed and a permanent ceasefire has gone into effect. The peace deal, however, will still have to be approved by the Colombian people in a referendum scheduled for early October this year. If the polls are correct, majority of the people are in favor of it.
If that happens, that leaves us as having the longest insurgency in the world—but hopefully, not for long. Our own insurgency did not really start in 1969 but started much earlier with the Hukbalahap in the late 1940s and 1950s. Unlike the FARC which was Marxist-Leninist, the CPP/NPA is Maoist. Both, however, are anti-imperialist and both use the same revolutionary jargon.
At the height of its power which was toward the end of Martial Law, it was estimated that the armed component of the CPP/NPA was more or less 22,000. And although the movement had a lot of barangays under its influence, it was never like the FARC which ran a government in the areas it controlled. Today, it is estimated that the CPP/NPA has an armed strength of less than 5,000 people, the bulk of which are in Mindanao. It derives its income principally from revolutionary taxation from businesses in the areas where they operate and other urban areas.
The CPP/NPA, like the FARC, also engages in illegal mining for revenue. In fact the mining areas in Mindanao are neutral territories for all combatants. To be fair, the CPP/NPA does not engage in kidnapping and illegal drugs for revenue. Judging from what we have been reading in the media and the occasional TV footages, the initial Oslo peace talks went very well indeed that an indefinite ceasefire was signed. There is no doubt that both panels seem at ease with one another that some might even consider the gathering a reunion of sorts. Both panels are talking of a one-year time frame to arrive at a permanent peace deal. If this succeeds, it will put an end to a sad and violent chapter of our history. Unlike the Columbian peace agreement, our peace deal will not require a referendum. But should there be one? Maybe that is for the government to ponder.
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One important aspect to consider in the war on drugs is denying the availability of the ingredients to manufacture methamphetamine. In the past, the bulk of the supply of shabu getting into the country was the result of smuggling. The supply which was reported to be coming mostly from China, was brought to our shores and released along the beaches in floating containers to be retrieved by drug syndicates and then distributed throughout the country.
Today, most of the supply is manufactured in makeshift laboratories in many parts of the country. And sadly, most of those who are engaged in the manufacture are again allegedly Chinese nationals. The manufacture of shabu needs ingredients which are called precursors in the trade. These various chemicals are imported from other countries and are considered dual-use items. This means that these chemicals can be used legally for other legitimate and commercial purposes like fertilizer, household cleaning materials and medicine. These items, therefore, need a government permit before being imported. When they are brought in, where they end up will have to be monitored.
It is the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency that gives the permits. So if PDEA does not supervise this operation efficiently, PDEA will in fact be contributing to the increase in the supply of shabu. If PDEA however, tightens the screws in this area, shabu availability will at the very least be reduced significantly. Right now however, we do not know what the government would consider victory in the war on drugs. Would the government consider a 70-percent decrease in affectation a success and move on to other pressing national problems or go down even lower to zero affectation? We simply have to wait and see.