How serious is the threat to national security posed by the communist-led insurgency in the Philippine countryside at this point?
If the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) is to be believed, the current number of guerrilla fighters of the New People’s Army (NPA) stands at 2,000, down from the 3,000-4,000 estimate from six years ago. The number of active guerrilla fronts, meanwhile, has been slashed to 23 from 89 in 2016, or a 74 percent reduction.
Every guerrilla front has at least three platoons with around 100 armed combatants, according to former police chief and now Sen. Ronald de la Rosa.
The AFP also claims that 25,000 NPA supporters have surrendered to authorities.
While the AFP did not indicate a time frame under which the surrenders took place, it’s possible that the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) could have played a big role in the effort to deprive the rebels the political, financial and material support needed to sustain the armed struggle.
The NPA was founded back on March 29, 1969, so it’s been fighting government forces for 53 years now.
At its height in the early 1980s, its strength was estimated to have reached 25,000 fulltime guerrillas. But this estimate appears to be bloated, as this strength could have easily led to large-scale battles between rebels and government troops.
No such encounters took place as these were apparently limited to platoon-size formations on both sides, based on news reports.
If NPA strength has been drastically reduced over time, what will be the Marcos administration’s attitude towards them?
We know that peace and order in the countryside is a prerequisite for sustained economic growth that will reduce poverty in rural communities and improvements in the quality of life of rural folk.
All-out military offensives in areas where NPA presence is still felt may be an option, but winning hearts and minds is just as important, so the NTF-ELCAC is likely to continue its work.
Will President Marcos Jr. go the way of his father who vowed to crush the armed insurgency through martial law and launch massive search-and-destroy operations against the NPA?
Or will he try a different approach and offer them the olive branch while instituting reforms in the economic, political and social spheres that will reduce poverty in the countryside?
Recall that the CPP-NPA-NDF had boasted in the late 1980s of having reached what they called the “advanced substage of the strategic defensive” leading to the stalemate stage and later the strategic offensive stage in the “people’s war,” a strategy patterned after what Mao Zedong had adopted in China in the 1940s.
The NPA, if it is true that they now have only 2,000 fulltime guerillas against an armed forces reaching to 150,000 and a police force with the same number, appears a puny force now incapable of launching large-scale attacks against government forces.
Is it a lost cause or what?